Doctrine of the Last Things (Part 14)

October 08, 2014     Time: 00:20:46

The Character Qualities of Christians

As we draw our Defenders Series II to a close, I have been sharing with you some thoughts about Christian discipleship because I feel so keenly the inadequacy of what I’ve taught you over the last three and a half years with respect to being a disciple of Jesus. Doctrinal maturity or correctness is only one facet of being a disciple of Christ.

We saw last time in looking at 2 Peter 1:3-11 that in addition to our Christian faith there is what we might call “faith plus” – all of these other character qualities of the Christian disciple that we need to be diligent about inculcating into ourselves. Peter mentions virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. These ought to be the character qualities of a follower of Jesus.

Let’s not miss the promise that goes with this in 2 Peter 1:8ff:

For if these things are yours and abound, [notice it is not just to have them, but to have them abundantly] they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What a fantastic promise. If you want to have a life that is bearing fruit for Jesus Christ, a life that is effective in carrying out the ministry that God has given you, then these character qualities are sufficient for that. Having these character qualities in abundance will prevent you from being ineffective or unfruitful. They will guarantee a fruitful, effective Christian life and ministry.

He goes on to say,

For whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election,

By developing these character qualities and having these in abundance will confirm your call and election as a Christian.

for if you do this you will never fall;

What a promise! Do you worry about whether you will persevere to the end? Will I fall away and apostatize? Here Peter says this is the guarantee – that you will persevere and you will not fall away. If these qualities are yours and abound then you will never fall.

so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I think you can see how essential and important it is to try in our Christian lives to develop the character of Christ and to abound in these Christ-like qualities.

At the same time, although we are to be diligent about this (Peter says make every effort to do this – he says if you are zealous about these things – so obviously he is emphasizing that we are to make efforts in this regard), still this can really be discouraging or put you under the pile because nobody by human effort can bring his life into conformity with the character of Christ. The more you try, the more you realize how far short you fall of the standard to which we aspire. So if we are not to lead Christian lives of defeat and constant discouragement, how can we have these sorts of qualities and a victorious Christian life? The answer, I believe, is through the fruit of the Spirit.[1] It is the filling of the Holy Spirit that will enable a person to live a life which increasingly conforms to the image of Christ and produces these sorts of qualities in abundance.

Look at Galatians 5:16, 22-23. Paul says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Then he goes on to talk a little bit about characteristics of the flesh. But then in verse 22 he says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” As we are filled with the Holy Spirit, that is to say, under the control of the Holy Spirit, empowered by the Holy Spirit in our lives, the result of that will be this so-called fruit of the Holy Spirit. These are really the earmarks of the spirit-filled life, not charismatic gifts like speaking in tongues or miraculous healings. When you look at the church of Corinth for example, they abounded in charismatic gifts like speaking in tongues and miracles and so forth. And yet Corinth was the most carnal church in the New Testament. The real sign of the fullness and the power of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life is the production of the fruit of the Spirit – these character qualities that result from walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.

As you look at this list of the fruit of the Spirit, you immediately see the overlap with the list of character qualities that Peter says are the key to successful, fruitful, persevering Christian living. For example, one of the fruits of the Spirit is love. That matches up with one of the qualities on Peter’s list. Joy and peace don’t seem to be found there. These seem to be the products of the filling of the Holy Spirit in your life – a joyful and contentful Christian life. But then notice patience and faithfulness. When these two are had in combination, that results in perseverance. If you are faithful and patiently endure then you will persevere. Kindness is also found on the list as brotherly kindness or affection. Goodness is the same as virtue – the production of moral goodness in our lives. Gentleness, I don’t really see there, but then there is self-control which, again, is explicitly mentioned in Peter’s list. As for godliness: godliness, you will remember we said, is having a spiritual orientation, not a material orientation. That is, of course, produced by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So if we want to have the kind of character qualities that Peter says are so vital to the Christian life, these will be had through being filled with and walking in the Holy Spirit. As our lives are yielded daily to the empowering and convicting and guiding presence of the Holy Spirit, we will be changed and the Spirit will produce in us exactly these kinds of qualities.

Do you notice there is one of those qualities that is not produced by being filled with the Holy Spirit. I thought this was so interesting. Knowledge! Knowledge is something you’ve got to do on your own. Being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t going to give you a knowledge of Christian doctrine. You are going to have to study and take a class or read some books or something like that. So the fruit of the Spirit will help to produce all of these Christ-like qualities in our lives, but knowledge is something that we are going to have to do by studying Scriptures and reflecting upon them philosophically in order to develop correct Christian doctrine.[2]

So I think you can see that while what we are doing in Defenders class is not by any stretch of the imagination a full-orbed curriculum in Christian discipleship, it does deal with one essential part of it; and that is, knowledge. For the rest what we need to do as individual Christians is to yield our lives daily to the power and the guidance of the Holy Spirit so as to develop these Christ-like qualities in us.

As you think about these qualities, these aren’t the sorts of things that just happen overnight. Perseverance and godliness and love – these aren’t the sorts of things that just appear in your life suddenly. These are virtues that develop over time. So it is not just a matter of being filled with the Holy Spirit at a certain time. It is a matter of what Paul calls “walking” in the Spirit. That is to say, logging time in the Spirit – being filled with the Holy Spirit, empowered and guided by him day-by-day, year-by-year, over a long period of time. So in Galatians 5:16, 25 he says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. . . . If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

So I would encourage you every day that you get up before your feet hit the floor: ask the Lord, “Lord, fill me today with your Holy Spirit. Help me to walk today in a way that is pleasing to you in word and deed and thought. Convict me of sin when I am not yielded to your Spirit but am yielded to my own flesh instead.” When you become aware of that or convicted of that, confess it immediately and ask him to fill you again with his Spirit and to take control of your life and to guide you. Keep short accounts with God. Don’t let sin fester or be swept under the rug. The moment you are aware of it, confess it immediately, claim his promise that if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Then ask him to fill you again with the Holy Spirit. As we do that – as we walk in the Spirit – then his promise is that the fruit of the Holy Spirit will be produced in our lives and thereby the kind of characteristics that ought to attend a true disciple of Christ and will guarantee a fruitful and effective ministry.

Those are some of the thoughts that I wanted to share with you to wrap up our Defenders curriculum.

Discussion

Question: I would just like to note that in 2 Peter there are two “knowledges” – there is one that is gnosis which is a kind of head knowledge, and there is epignosis which is knowledge of Jesus Christ, of saving knowledge. In the verse that you cited, that is gnosis. In verse 8 it says if you do all these things it leads to true epignosis, which is also provided by the Holy Spirit.

Answer: That is very interesting. You are saying that in that promise that these will prevent you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ – this is not mere gnosis, not mere doctrinal knowledge, but this knowledge of Christ, knowledge of God.

Question: I would like your thoughts on verse 5 [2 Peter 1:5]. I’ve often wondered if there is an implied progression in these traits. In other words, you will notice the wording, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control.” In other words, is there some thought that perhaps it is a pyramid where faith is at the base and in order to add the latter elements, the former elements are required?[3]

Answer: I’ve thought about that, too, and wondered about it. It would seem like love would be the appropriate pinnacle, doesn’t it? That that would be the climax. But I must say that for many of the other qualities, it wasn’t obvious to me that there would be that sort of relationship – that you would first add virtue to your faith and then supplement virtue with this sort of knowledge and then knowledge with self-control. To me, I did not see there a kind of logical progression. It seemed to me that these qualities are not necessarily built like a pyramid. But I could be wrong there and maybe you are able to see how that might work. But I didn’t see it. I wondered the same thing and wasn’t able to see that clearly myself.

Question: Just to build on that, the same thing is in John 14:26, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The way I see it, all these things come by work anyway. You have to work on all of them – the patience, the love. It just doesn’t come to you right off the bat unless you have that faith in Jesus Christ, unless you jump in 100%. Then it all just comes to you – the knowledge, the love, the peace, the kindness, the goodness, all of that. That is what I see in this.

Answer: Certainly, there is that element in the passage in Peter where he talks about being diligent or making your best effort and being zealous. So from the human point of view that is right. You don’t just sit back passively and expect these qualities to magically appear in your character. You go out and work on them. You make an effort to do these things. But at a deeper level, you are really trusting in the Holy Spirit to remake you from the inside out as you engage in, for example, service to others or being involved in study or showing mercy or things of that sort. So it is a paradox. There is definite effort that is required by the person, but then on the other hand at this deeper level it is God who is at work in you, as Paul says, to will and to do his good pleasure.

Question: That is wonderful that you’ve compared the two lists. But I would propose one more list – that is, the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. I think it is very interesting that someone asked about the progression. I think with the Beatitudes, we start from our condition – poor in spirit, who mourn, and meek, and who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on. But in 2 Peter it is from God’s revelation. We received that faith and that goodness, then the knowledge is basically . . . some people . . . we all have this structure that we can hang the knowledge on. If we have a structure of believing in God then the things of God can hang on our understanding. But if we have a “denying God” mindset, that is a structure that only those things that deny God can hang on. So it is important that we have a structure where we can hang the knowledge that concerns God on – that is the goodness. Then we work out our self-control and everything. So I think those two lists – one is stemming from us (our condition), and one is stemming from God’s revelation to us that we receive.

Answer: If I understand your point, I think you are emphasizing the importance of thinking in worldview terms as Christians. A theistic view of the world is very different than an atheistic worldview. It has a different structure, as you say. They are different realities. So viewing things within a theistic worldview is the way we as Christians need to learn to think. That will be part of this reformation of our knowledge that will happen through Christian doctrine.

Question: I thought I would try to have the last word, Dr. Craig. I just wanted to thank you on behalf of all of us for your dedication and service to this class. We all benefit immeasurably from your ministry. Thank you for the last three years, and we look forward to the next three!

Answer: Thank you! It is a joy![4]



[1] 5:03

[2] 10:15

[3] 15:09

[4] Total Running Time: 20:47 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)