“Raising the Bar”
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 excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so 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. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…
2 Peter 1:3-5a
Spiritual growth takes two things: God’s activity and our cooperation, in that order. Peter presents God’s plan for our spiritual growth at the beginning of his second epistle. In Christ, God provides the raw ingredients (1:3) and the motivation to grow (1:4). Peter then calls upon us to respond by putting these gifts to use.
We are to “make every effort” (1:8) and “be all the more diligent” (1:10) to “grow” (3:18) in the eight ways he outlines in 1:5-7. As we grow in these areas, we resemble our Lord more and more and partake more deeply of his “divine nature” (1:4). The combination of human exertion and divine grace is the key by which we gain entrance into God’s “eternal kingdom” (1:11).
One of the areas we must grow in is “virtue.” Virtue is excellence, a general term describing a quality which is outstanding, surpassing ordinary standards. We can easily tell the difference between something that is ordinary and something that is excellent. Certain cars, restaurants, athletes or musicians simply excel beyond the average. In the context of the letter, Peter describes moral excellence, a quality of character that is extraordinary. Our character is who we are when no one is looking. How can we grow in moral excellence? Paul’s words to the Romans are helpful:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)
First, we must renovate our mind. Our ethics begin with our thinking. Our minds need renewed before we can become more virtuous people because they have been wired according to this “world.” Our culture can no longer dictate our thinking. We must abandon the world’s ethical system and adopt God’s. Therefore, before our “works” (actions) can become more virtuous, our “mind” must be “renewed” (rewired) according to “the will of God.”
Second, we must elevate our standards. Discerning God’s will and discovering “what is good and acceptable and perfect” raises the bar of our moral expectations. Before, when we were still “following the course of this world” (Eph. 2:1-3), we set the bar much too low. Our sense of right and wrong was not fixed (Jdg. 21:25). We measured ourselves by one another (2 Cor. 10:12) making us our own moral authority (Gen. 3:5). But in adopting God’s kingdom-standards, the bar is raised. Jesus calls us to a deeper righteousness, the highest ethical standard (Mt. 5:20, 48).
Third, we must activate our response. Educating our minds is not enough. For our knowledge to be “fruitful” (Col. 1:10), it must be put to the test. That is why Paul says it is only “by testing,” that is, putting God’s will into practice in the real world, that we can experience “what is good and acceptable and perfect” ourselves. Putting God’s will into practice is part of “discerning” it. The word “discern” (dokimazo) can also mean “prove.” It often has the sense of finding out the worth of something by putting it to use in a practical way (Lk. 14:19; 1 Cor. 3:13; 2 Cor. 8:22; 1 Tim. 3:10).
By living out God’s will, as Jesus did, we come to learn that his high standard of morality is the way human beings were meant to live all along. Let us then raise the bar and strive to live more like Jesus.