… giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. -II Peter1:5-8
A Fruitful Journey
Peter has walked a long time with Jesus since that day on the shores of Galilee when our Lord asked, “Lovest thou me?” Scholars estimate II Peter was written some 35 years after that event. In looking back over his long journey with Jesus Christ, and knowing he will shortly depart this earth1, Peter offers us these final words of encouragement, words he says are meant to “stir you up.” Are you where you thought you would be on this journey? Has your life produced the kinds of fruit you anticipated when you first became a believer? Have your recent days, months, perhaps years been barren, dry and hard?
Peter wrote these words to those “of like precious faith.” Yet, the corollary to the above verses is that if these things are not diligently pursued by you, you will be barren and unfruitful. Don’t be afraid to face the truth. Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame others. Like Peter, we are all made of the same rebellious hearts, and have the same prideful minds. Have you said, “Depart from me!” to Him? Have you denied Him with cursings? Have you failed to follow through on your deepest promises to Him, failing completely? Take heart dear saint. Let Peter’s words stir you up again. Our Father is ever attentive to a broken and contrite heart. Peter’s advice is meant for you. Jesus has come seeking you, and is asking if you love Him.
Jesus isn’t like anyone we’ve ever heard or seen! Especially this profound patience with us. When we fail, even seventy times seven failures, He welcomes us back. He stirs our hearts anew. Shall we continue to resist such a lover? Rather, let us again renew our journey with Him, as Peter says, “with all diligence.” Peter’s advice about the journey of discipleship is critically important, being both inspired by the Holy Spirit and informed by his own experience of repeated failures. We need, as Peter urges, to continually “add to our faith” the growth through experiential learning that our Lord offers in the everyday moments and circumstances of life.
Peter Called Seven Times
Looking closely at the life of Peter, we discover that our Lord called Peter many times and in many ways. In much the same way, our Lord draws us to walk with Him–to return, to renew, to strengthen, to continue deeper, to start again. His mercies are indeed new every morning. Even after we fail in ways that would lead us to despair ever hearing His voice again, He will beckon us anew to walk with Him. The various calls scripture records in Peter’s life provide discipleship markers that perhaps fit those things Peter urges we add to our faith in II Peter 1:5-7. Peter encourages us that “if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is our hope and prayer, and His promise and call.
Call 1: Thou art…thou shalt be (recorded at about 6 months into our Lord’s ministry)
One day, through whatever circumstance, we come to meet Jesus of Nazareth. Think back to that time. Do you remember the shame you felt at first? Do you remember the anticipation of a new life, a full life, a life fulfilling your deepest hopes? Just as with Peter, He assigns us a new name, a new potential, and a new calling. We will in time learn that He has chosen us, not we Him. But for now, we think ourselves wise to have chosen Him, and so we believe we control and measure His influence over us at our will. At this first calling, Peter’s life was not outwardly changed. Peter continued to be a fisherman. Like Peter, initially we are interested in Him, but He resides in a seperate compartment, perhaps only on Sundays, and does not fill our everyday lives. Yet, He has a dream for us, a place for us, a calling. Because of His attention, we develop an awareness of what pleases Him and what does not. Our conscience becomes sensitive. We are aware of the vast difference between Jesus and ourselves. Peter might be referring to this aspect as “add to your faith…virtue.”
Call 2. Launch out…let down your nets….follow me…fishers of men (recorded at about 9 months into our Lord’s ministry) -Lk 5:1-11; Matt 4:18-20
Usually through some circumstance, often disappointment in an area we think ourselves quite competent, we learn to hear His guidance. We learn, perhaps with surprise, that He is involved in our secular affairs as well as our religious life. We still look on somewhat removed from the action, armchair spectators of this holy one, without much real impact on our lives. We do see further the potential intent upon our lives in this new calling. We begin to gain insights and understandings of His involvement in every area of our lives. Peter might be referring to this aspect as “add to your faith…knowledge.”
Call 3. He called unto Him whom He would…that they should be with Him (recorded at about 12 months into our Lord’s ministry) -Mk 3:8-15; Matt 9:35-10:5
He demonstrates for us how He works, as we watch Him, and begin to see Him in everything around us. We begin to spend time consistently with Him, and relate our everyday world to Him. We are closely involved in observing, a time of great joy and freedom. We must, however, leave some things behind to get to this place with Him. We are less free to respond to our own desires and whims as we walk with Him. Peter might be referring to this aspect as “add to your faith…temperance.”
Call 4. Will ye also go away? (recorded at about 2 years into our Lord’s ministry) -Jn 6:41-44, 60, 67-69
We reach a crisis in our walk, a point where others turn back.. We are seperating ourselves from many we consider good Christians if we follow on further. He talks about the costs, opens the door for us to leave, and gives us a choice to make freely, without pressure. We find there is nothing else in life that interests us. This focus is about endurance- will we stay the course with Him even though we now see and feel the cost of this journey? Will we bear the scars of the cross? Peter might be referring to this aspect as “add to your faith…patience.”
Call 5. Lovest thou me? Feed my sheep (recorded at the end of our Lord’s ministry)
-Mk 14:50, 54, 71, 72; Jn 21:15-17, 19-22
We learn of our utter inability to be holy or to follow Him in our own strength into difficulty. We no longer feel we can walk with Him, even face Him, in spite of the fact that we do love Him some. We discover our need of His mercy and His grace, having nothing to offer to earn His love. We learn that He calls us anyway, and bids us to love Him by serving His people. Interestingly, the roots of the word “godliness” is “well…to worship.” Listen to Paul as the NIV has it in Romans 12:1:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.”
We worship Him when we come to the place where we not only own our failure, but His love and comission. God has, as He promised when He first called you, good works He has prepared for you to do. We learn to worship in spirit and in truth. Peter might be referring to this aspect as “add to your faith…godliness.”
Call 6. What God hath cleansed…call thou not unclean (recorded at about 9 years after our Lord’s ascension) -Acts 10:11-16
We are called to have our minds renewed, to see new paradigms, to be prepared to do new things differently than we think, or understand things to be. The letter of the Law subsumes to the spirit of the Law, and we loosen our grip on mere jots and tittles research. We are unbound by conventions and traditions that separate us from our brothers and sisters. We find tenderness towards the saints welling within us. Peter might be referring to this aspect as “add to your faith…brotherly kindenss.”
Call 7. Peter…was to be blamed…fearing them which were of the circumcision (recorded at about x years after our Lord’s ascension) -Gal 2:11-14
We are called in our journey to realize about ourselves that we care more what people think than what He thinks. That we care more for the esteem of those in power than the love of those who are disenfranchised. We find our love yet so lacking. We are found to not know things as we think we do, to not be as clever as we think we are, not so wise, not so humble, not yet even willing to get looked down on by others, much less die for Him. We here begin to learn freedom from being the center measurement of our actions and reactions. Love has no fear. Peter might be referring to this aspect as “add to your faith…love.”
Three Stages of Discipleship
We could simplify thinking about this discipleship process by seeing its three dimensions. In these three dimensions, various parts of our hearts and minds ebb and flow unevenly, so that we are always an admixture of some of each of the levels of knowing about Him, and about ourselves. We need again and again to learn these dimensions anew in every nook and cranny of our lives. These three dimensions could be described this way:
1. “I can do all things!”
In some portions of our journey with Him we boldly think, “I can do all things!” We have such zeal, such wonderfully high expectations. It looks simple enough to do, and we confuse our naiveté for faith. We have dreams, hopes, vision. We often herewith build with wood, hay, and stubble, much like Abraham with Ishmael.
2. “Without Him I can do nothing.”
In another dimension of our walk we learn, “Without Him, I can do nothing.” A sad, necessary, hard truth to learn. But here, after suffering and struggling for some time, we also learn to be content, even joyful, in the grace and mercy of our Savior. We understand in some measure the depth of His love. It is here we learn to walk away from what we have built in our own strength and wisdom.
3. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
We also are learning that we, “can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” We learn in these areas to respond to His love and grace, to avail of His promises and power, and to deny our continual fleshly rebelliousness. In some areas and in some measure we learn to strive in faith, to hear his voice, and to build with gold, silver, and precious stones.
So it may be that in one area of your life you set yourself up for failure being self confident, in another you are discouraged or learning to accept your inability, and in yet a third area, you have attained some levels of victory. This journey is over rugged terrain and we need endurance. May you and I be found among those faithful disciples who yet struggle in the dark night, who cry as their eyes are opened for more of God, who own our ever present weaknesses. In time we come to know the humility of our reality. No man or woman in Christ is yet completely in His image, and the more you journey toward His image, the farther away you learn you are. That is a painful awareness, and many turn back to hear no more of their failure and weakness, to go no more to the cross of our Lord to find their own selves tied into His death, allowing His life instead of their own.
While these three dimensions provide a simple and useful framework to think about our life as disciples, I also find helpful the detail in following the seven steps in Peter’s life as a disciple.
That is what discipleship is about. It isn’t about Sunday; it is about everyday with our Lord Jesus in every area of our life.
What is Discipleship?
In this journey, Peter stresses the positive disciplines we are to add to our faith. Paul, in describing the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, adds the negative side: “and they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Through the process of learning day by day from Him who is the God of heaven and earth, and learning about the deceptiveness and wickedness of our own hearts on the way, we are inevitably drawn deeper and deeper into Him and at odds with our old natures and the world system around us. The struggle is taking who and what we are to the cross time and time again, and allowing His life to reign in our place, often against every natural instinct within us. Here is how Paul describes the journey of discipleship:
Ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
While we become believers in an instant, we are disciples for a lifetime. Disciple means literally, student. What are we students of? Most would answer scripture, but we are students of Jesus Christ. He personally walks with us and teaches us. We are not students of scripture by our own abilities to understand, though that is what it may appear to the casual observer, and to the young believer. While the scriptures are the central means of communication between God and you, we must take care not to confuse the scriptures as a textbook that exists apart from God. The scriptures are the central means where God renews our minds, clears out the confusion of the world system that is in every way the opposite of God’s way, yet makes perfect sense to us in our warped values. We should spend hours studying and meditating in the scriptures every day, and many do, but seeing that in someone we must be careful not to conclude they are students of scripture and that is all there is to it. That God is only passive in the sense of recording His word, and now it is up to us to read, study and obey on our own strength and ability. To merely follow the letter of the law as we understand it is one thing; to have it written in your heart, where you follow the spirit of the word under the tutelage of our Comforter in the moments and trials of daily life, is quite another. With the letter, you can be the master, putting limits on God, detailing your rights, ordering your world after yourself. Walking in the Spirit of Him, you have no rights to assert, only a cross to embrace and death to face before resurrection life flows. You will be becoming the joyful enigma of both servant and free, rather than the frustrated emperor and slave of your own imagination. Everyone knows the latter experience; every believer can know the former.
In this journey of following Christ daily, we will so often walk over the same ground. But, each time we do, we learn some deeper aspect or keener appreciation about things we thought we already knew. The other day as I was looking through the flyleaf of one of my old bibles, I realized that almost every thing I have “learned” in the past year was mentioned in those various thoughts from 25 years ago. But I was also aware of the shallowness with which these truths were written into my heart in experience at the time they were written with ink, and reflected that, with His grace, in a few years I will understand the shallowness of my present understandings and walk.
Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance;
-II Peter 1:12, 13