Editor’s note: In reading Peter’s second letter it occurred to me how timely and relevant his advice is as we seek to make resolutions for 2017 that stick and help us to follow Jesus more closely and faithfully. And so, I’ve endeavored to imagine his letter as a blog post.
(Throughout the post the scripture passages appear in italics.)
Guest post by: Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ (excerpted from The Message, 2 Peter 1-11)
I write this to you whose experience with God is as life-changing as ours, all due to our God’s straight dealing and the intervention of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace to you many times over as you deepen in your experience with God and Jesus, our Master, and begin a new year, committed to pursing a deeper and more fully surrendered life with Him.
In fact, everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received!
We also were given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.
No matter where you are in your faith walk in these early days of 2017, each of us has far to grow in our love of Him, our daily submission and obedience to His will, and our effectiveness as His hands and feet in the world.
As you plan for resolutions that you already know you will break, let me offer an alternative approach. I’m about to outline a proven, seven-step method to a stronger faith in 2017.
Like nesting dolls, these steps fit neatly inside each other, the second being slightly larger than the first and so on, so that by the time you get to the seventh step you can be sure it is the greatest of all, for of course, it is love.
So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with these building blocks of our faith. Commit to get started on Step One today:
1. Good Character — Those who do not yet know Jesus are watching you. As my friend Matt Maher wrote, “You may be the only Bible someone reads. Are you legible?”
As you come to know and love our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, His Spirit, which indwells you, will draw you persistently toward a more virtuous life. Begin by being vigilant about your thought life, taking each and every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) to the good things that my dear brother, Paul, so eloquently outlined:
…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Virtuous thoughts beget virtuous feelings, which beget virtuous living.
2. Spiritual Understanding –As you endeavor to live a life of good character, God’s Word will come alive in a new way. This understanding is not knowledge of the letter of the law like Nathanael possessed, rather it is the spiritual wisdom that blossoms when you allow God’s Living Word to saturate your mind and overflow into your heart. It is the kind of wisdom Philip showed, who with little knowledge in comparison to Nathanael, immediately recognized Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, and evangelized Nathanael with three simple words:
Come and see!
3. Alert Discipline — Of course as you begin to make these changes in how you live, others will inevitably be drawn to you, seeking to understand the joy that is in you. This is the best evangelism going, so know that you will be making yourself a target for the enemy; may as well paint a big red bull’s eye on your back.
For this reason I implore you to remain alert; exercise self-control over your desires and passions, particularly your sensual appetites. I’ll reiterate the message from my last letter (1 Peter 3): Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick.
Don’t be like Felix (Acts 24), who when Paul exhorted him to follow the Way and lead a life of “alert discipline” became so discomfited by the prospect of leaving behind his worldly indulgences that he allowed Paul to remain in prison, dragging him out now and then to be regaled by his messages, but not embracing their saving power for himself.
4. Passionate Patience — I just know you hate to hear that patience, let alone “passionate patience” is a goal for this year. I know you’ve tried and failed so many times before, victims of an oh-so-busy, overly connected generation.
In my native tongue the word I use is hypomone. It is different from what you mean when you say “patience.” Hypomone refers to steadfastness, constancy, endurance. When I say this I mean “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.” (Source: Blue Letter Bible)
And the good news is that you do not have to worry too much about striving to achieve this; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, an attribute He will engender in you in the face of opposition, as you are faithful to embrace Steps One through Three.
5. Reverent Wonder — I must admit that this is one of my favorites! What a glorious day it was the first time I experienced eusebeia — an acute awareness of the magnificence of our God. Perhaps you’ve glimpsed a slice of it when you last took time to contemplate the vastness of the night sky and recognize that the God who made it is even bigger, more brilliant than its brightest stars…and yet He knows you by name!
We won’t live in full awareness until we are joined with Him in eternal life, but what inspiration and strength, power and courage are available to us from these tiny shards of His glorious light!
Commit this year to invite more wonder into your life, and allow that to empower your witness to His grace, love, mercy and pure awesomeness!
6. Warm Friendliness — This is philadelphia my dear friends, not the city, but the brotherly love after which it is named. You will experience it as you begin to consistently view others as more valuable than yourself (Philippians 2:3) and cultivate a servant’s heart in how you live, work and have your being.
How many weeks last year did you worship on Sunday and then enter your workplace looking indistinguishable from the atheist in the cube beside you?
Perhaps the question to help you fulfill Step Six is this: If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Living as a servant of the Lord has nothing to do with earning your salvation; that work was accomplished by Jesus, and He declared, “It is finished.” (John 19:30). This is about living a life in response to the gift of grace and salvation you received freely by His death and resurrection. It is about living with the urgency that Jesus expressed when He sent us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), baptizing them into the same living water in which you yourself were saved.
How do we ever dupe ourselves into believing that keeping this quiet is the polite thing to do? As Ravi Zacharias likes to say, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good; he came to make dead people alive.” How many of your family and friends are living as the walking dead? Allow your kindness this year to lead them to repentance.
7. And the greatest of these is Love, Generous Love —
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Eugene Peterson put it this way: “Regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.” (Colossians 3: 14-17
Here’s the well-kept secret to success with Step 7: Love is not a feeling, it’s a decision. You may not like some folks at all; they may be the most arrogant, annoying people on earth, but you can love them. “How in the world do I do that,” you ask:
- Serve them.
- Do random acts of kindness for them.
- Pray for them.
- Listen to them.
- Remind yourself that they too are children of God and are precious in His sight.
I know it sounds impossible, but as you change your thinking, your feelings will follow and you will want to treat them in loving ways. The reverse also is true; as you are of service to others, your feelings will warm and your thoughts will become more loving too.
The weak link, believe it or not, is your feelings; don’t trust them for a second (Jeremiah 29:17) and do not listen to them when making the decision to love.
Each dimension I’ve outlined here [fits] into and develop[s] the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.
So, friends, confirm God’s invitation to you, His choice of you. Don’t put it off; do it now. Do this, and you’ll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.