How often have we heard the expression, “He is such a fine fellow, he must be a Christian!” How much better it would be to hear said, “What a fine fellow he is, for he is a Christian!” This should cause us to pause for thought. Why is it that so many of us, who claim Christ as Lord and Master, lack the graces that should characterize one who is His?
To be a Christian, one must have, by an act of faith, taken Christ as his own personal Saviour. Does the matter rest there? Surely not! Isn’t it true, however, that if we were pressed to give a reason for believing Mr. X to be a Christian, we would have to fall back on a profession of that because, outwardly, there is no other evidence. Perhaps we might have to resort to saying, “He must be a Christian because he goes to such and such an Assembly.” How pitiful!
Having dealt with Mr. X, let us turn our attention to Mr. Self. Let each of us, before God, inquire, “Do those about me know whose I am and whom I serve?”
Perhaps my neighbours and business associates know I am different, because I do not engage in the things in which they find so much enjoyment. They see me with my Bible going off to my place of worship each Sunday morning. They may even encounter me again as I am on my way to mid-week meeting. They may take note that I have no television set, or radio, or even car. They recognize me as a “church-goer”; they know I talk on religion, but do they know that I am a “Christ-one”?
How easy it is to fall into a formal pattern of behaviour that marks us off from others. The Pharisees did, but the Lord Himself was most scathing in His denunciation of them in Matthew 23. They were careful to observe all the rules and regulations that their order imposed, that by the propriety of their talk and walk they might win praise for themselves. Their actions were not pleasing to God. It is quite true that we have a responsibility to so walk before men that they might see our good works, but the end result of such a walk is that God might receive the glory (Matt. 5:16). We do well to ask ourselves if we walk to please God, or man, or even our brethren.
The problem of personal behaviour is dealt with very fully in Holy Writ. In the Garden of Eden, man was tried in innocency and he failed. A period during which conscience operated followed with the same result. Law proved a burden greater than the people could bear, so, in grace and mercy, God sent forth His Son to settle forever the vexing question of sin. Through faith in Him, it is gloriously possible to live in newness of life. A carnal man could obey a law; it takes a spirit-led soul to enter into the full enjoyment of the liberty into which the grace of God has called all who believe on His name.
In this dispensation of grace, rules and regulations are not the order, but everywhere throughout the New Testament the marks of true Christian behaviour are emphasized. Even in Romans, so heavily weighted with doctrine, we have a comprehensive picture of what our conduct should be (Rom. 12:9-21).
A complete summary of all the passages bearing on this subject would be exhausting. Let us limit our attention to the seven graces presented in 2 Peter 1:5-7.
We have already pointed out that the Christian life begins with an act of faith. Here our passage urges us to add to our faith. Perhaps the word add, with its connotation of piling one thing upon another, is misleading. The teaching is better understood if we view it as an employing of the graces enumerated as an outward manifestation of an inward life.
In the original, the word here translated, “virtue,” simply means goodness, an attribute of God. It emphasizes the impression made upon another. In 1 Peter 2:9, it is translated “praises.” There, as a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people,” we are exhorted to show forth His praises or excellencies. How better can we reveal to others that we are His than by displaying His goodness. As the hymn writer has put it, “Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.”
If, then, our lives are to be an outshining of Christ, it follows that we must have an intimate knowledge of Him. The First Epistle of Peter begins with linking all that pertains to life and godliness to a knowledge of Jesus Christ, and it ends with the exhortation, “Grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.” The Apostle Paul also emphasized this for he says, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my
Lord” (Phil. 8:8). Pursuing this same subject in Ephesians 4, he sets as the pinnacle of Christian attainment the coming “into the unity of faith, and knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the stature of the fulness of Christ.” The very contemplation of this goal must leave us lost with a sense of awe and shame, when we consider how far short we fall.
“Knowledge is power,” is a well-known saying. On the one hand, knowledge without action is impotent, but on the other hand the unbridled use of the power entailed in knowledge is licentiousness. How fitting that “temperance” should follow “knowledge” in our passage for “temperance is power in restraint.”
The history of Christendom reveals the tragic consequences of the lack of temperance. The enigma of the ages is the abuse of power by those who claim to be of the “Apostolic Succession.” In speaking of the quality of mercy, Shakespeare said, “Tis mightiest in the mighty.” So should it be with temperance. Those who know the most should show the greatest restraint. It is not only our responsibility, but it is our privilege to display this grace in a society that knows much less about the things of God than we. If temperance is so necessary among our unsaved acquaintances, how much more among the saints of God. Sad to relate, the greatest cause of discord and division among true believers is failure to observe this control.
If temperance is power in check, then patience is the soil in which it is nurtured. We recall a public Bible Reading in which a brother introduced the problem of smoking, and he went on at some length to describe its evils and effects on personal testimony. Since no one present smoked, it was suggested that a discussion of impatience and its twin, bad temper, might serve a more practical purpose. The meeting floundered right there. If the reader’s experience is anything like that of the writer, he will have to confess that this strikes a vulnerable spot. In every day life with its petty annoyances, vexing trials, and outright frustrations, it is very difficult to retain a calm, unruffled spirit. But that is what is demanded although it is very personal. Left to ourselves we must fail, but we have One who endured all that we must endure and more who is ready to aid us. Only the real sense of His living presence at our side can give us the forbearance to remain undisturbed by provocation and abuse.
We now come to “godliness,” a much misunderstood word. As used here, it is that attitude Godward which results in a complete surrender to His will. The outward manifestation is a devout and pious life; the inward result is a serenity that accepts with composure the viscissitudes of day by day living. “In that mingled fear and love which, combined, constitute the piety of man toward God, the Old Testament places its emphasis on fear, the New Testament places it on love (though there was love in the fear of God’s saints then, as there must be fear in their love now).” So wrote Trench. It is failure to understand this balance that produces extremes in Christian behaviour. Christ Himself set the pattern for us to follow, when, in that prayer of subjection, He said, “Not My will but Thine, be done.” Oh, that we were able not only to repeat that cry, but, in full and complete surrender, place our lives in the hand of God! Then would those about us know of a surety that we are:
“Bought with a price, we’re not our own;
We died, we lived to God alone!”
The last two graces have something in common; yet are different. In the original, “brotherly kindness” is the combination of a word meaning brother and another word meaning love. It is the word philadelphia from which the City of Brotherly Love, in Pennsylvania, gets its name. The emphasis is on natural affection. The word translated “charity” is a much stronger word for love and much harder to define. It is used in the New Testament to express the attitude of God toward His Son and to the world at large. It is the love of John 3:16. It is used almost exclusively in John’s epistles where so much is said about our love to one another, and it is characteristically dealt with in I Corinthians 13 where it is the greatest of the three graces, faith, hope and love.
The seven graces of 2 Peter are linked with a promise and a warning. We do well to consider them. The promise is fruitfulness. How much we long to see fruit in the Assemblies of God’s people! Is its lack due to our failure to apprehend and observe the pattern of behaviour God, not man, has placed before us? God give us grace to examine our walk before Him in the light of His word, and courage to make whatever change is necessary so that we “shall never fail.”