Jesus finished what the Law started without changing it

When you think about the church as a whole in general, what’s the first thing you think of? Maybe if you’re in another country where the Bible is illegal and churches are threatened, you have a different perspective than we do here in America. But here in the US, generally what I run into when I talk to people about the church is the idea that “church people” are always fast to pass judgment.

This is a horrible example and it may not even be relevant, but one of the most popular comedy sketches in the history of television was Dana Carvey’s Church Lady–a cantankerous old woman character who fussed and fretted about modern trends and popular culture (and it was pretty funny, honestly).

I’ve had this conversation with people before. If you go to church, it usually means that you have no problem condemning actions or choices or the beliefs of other people. You sit on a high horse and pass judgment on people you don’t know. Whether it’s actually true or not, that seems to be the general perception.

But isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? Isn’t the Bible a book of dos and don’ts? As Christ-followers, don’t we have the right and a duty to tell other people when they’re wrong?

Oh, this is such a slippery slope. And in situations like this, it’s always best to go back to the source to see what the Bible actually says.

dreamstime_m_9338559Today’s verse is Matthew 5:17.

Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.

This is still the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ best known messages. One of many things I love about Jesus is that He wanted people to understand why He’d come. He didn’t just walk about thumping people on the head and telling people that they were wrong. He spent His time building relationships with people.

But by that same token, as He says in this verse, He didn’t come to do away with the Law. He came to finish what the Law started.

Everything that God had done throughout the Old Testament was a picture to demonstrate that God had a relationship with people. The Laws weren’t given as a means to get to heaven or to reach God. The Laws were given to show people they could never be good enough and that they would have to rely on God’s grace through faith for salvation. Sound familiar?

Jesus came to bridge the gap between a perfect God and a broken world. And He didn’t accomplish this by walking around beating people down because they had sinned. He didn’t make it happen by standing above everyone and pointing out everything they’d done wrong. He didn’t do it by jumping down somebody’s throat because they say something that disagrees with God’s Word.

No. But at the same time, Jesus didn’t pull His punches either. He spoke the Truth because He is the Truth. He didn’t change one thing about Scripture that God had already established. I mean, think about that. God doesn’t change, and Jesus is God. So if you can’t separate God from Jesus, you can’t separate Jesus from the Bible.

You can respect another person’s choice to believe something without believing it yourself. You can demonstrate love and kindness toward people who believe differently than you do without thinking poorly of them. Pointing out where people are wrong won’t help you build a relationship with them. When you point at someone else’s faults, remember there are four fingers pointing back at you. Try to keep that in mind the next time you are being critical of someone else’s choices. We can’t make decisions for other people, and I’ve never once seen where a heated debate changed anybody’s mind.

Be clear. What the Bible says goes, and you can’t separate Jesus from the Bible. What God says is true and right. Period. Whether we like it or not. But nobody has the right to tear someone else down for what they do or don’t believe.

Jesus wanted people to understand why He was here and make up their own minds. That’s what we should be doing too.

 

The difference between being Christian and being Christ-like

Imagine, one day you meet someone who says he or she is a writer. That’s awesome, right? So you ask them what they write, and they respond: “Well, I’m not really writing anything now. But I will soon.” Are they really a writer?

Let’s try another job description. One that’s not artsy. How about an engineer? If someone tells you they are an engineer, generally you ask what they build or what they design. But what if the engineer you’re talking to has never built anything or designed anything?

There’s a big discrepancy in both of those situations. You can claim to be a writer all day long and never act like a writer. You can know everything you need to know to be an engineer but never act like an engineer. So why do we think it’s different with our faith?

roads-divergingToday’s verses are Deuteronomy 30:19-20.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

My Bible study group recently finished a section on the Book of Deuteronomy, which is Moses’ instructions to the Children of Israel before they are about to go into the Land of Canaan.

God is really straightforward with them, and He repeats Himself a lot. Basically what He says is that if they obey Him, they’ll be blessed, and if they disobey Him, they’ll be cursed. Pretty simple, right? If you’ve read the book, you know how that story goes.

And, yes, God is speaking directly to the Children of Israel in this particular verse, but what He’s saying relates to our lives today as well.

We all face choices every day. We can choose to take God at His Word and obey Him, regardless of whether it’s fun or not. Or we can choose to live life on our own terms. Those are the only choices we have. You choose life or death, blessings or curses. Just like the Children of Israel did.

And just like the Children of Israel, if you want to be obedient to God, you need to love Him and commit yourself to Him. That means doing what He says is right. That means living your life in a way that would please Him. That means making choices that honor God. That means living a Christ-like life.

But how many of us know it’s true that you can call yourself a Christian all day long but not be Christ-like?

Just like a writer who doesn’t write or an engineer who doesn’t design, a Christian isn’t automatically Christ-like. That’s a choice you have to make every hour of every day.

I know a particularly troublesome Christian who is sometimes the least Christ-like person you’ll ever meet. I saw her in the mirror this morning. 😉

I’m stubborn. I want my own way. I think I know best. And I don’t want to do it God’s way because He’ll take me down a road that won’t be fun, and I just want to have fun. And believe me, I’ve lived through the consequences of those choices, and I can tell you from experience that it’s better to listen to God. But I’m a work in progress. Every Christian is.

You’re a Christian the moment you trust Christ for your salvation, but becoming Christ-like is a process.

If you want to call yourself a Christian, fine. Carry a Bible. Memorize Scripture. Go to church. Do the Christian thing. But what difference will a title make in your life if you don’t do what a Christian is supposed to do? A Christian is supposed to be Christ-like, and that doesn’t happen just because you install a Bible app on your smartphone.

Learning to follow God is more than just going to church or memorizing Bible verses or going to a Bible study. You follow God in the little things. Following God happens in the small moments–or at least, they may be small moments to you. They’re the moments when you refuse to participate in office gossip. They’re the moments when you decide to bite your tongue instead of saying something rude. They’re the moments when you do something kind instead of something mean. They’re the moments when you choose to love someone you don’t think deserves it.

In those moments, you choose to do those things for no other reason than God told you to. Those are the moments when you are Christ-like, and that’s far more important than being a Christian any day.

Pelicans flying together - Galveston, TX

Follow God’s heart

How can I say that we can’t trust our hearts? The number one reason is because the Bible says so. Maybe that’s simplistic, but I have chosen to believe the Bible word for word. I believe the Bible is the literal Word of God, the absolute truth.

So what happens when the Bible contradicts “science” and “logic”? What happens when the Bible contradicts popular culture? What happens when the Bible contradicts the way I feel?

Is truth any less true because someone disagrees with it? No. Truth is bigger than any of our petty disagreements. But that’s a really deep answer to a pretty simple question. Can we trust our hearts? No. Because the Bible says so, and not just in Jeremiah 17:9-10.

Pelicans flying together - Galveston, TX

Pelicans flying together – Galveston, TX

But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. If we can’t trust our hearts because they are wicked, does that mean that we as people are wicked? Well, yes. But what about Christ? Did Christ’s sacrifice mean anything to our hearts? The Bible is full of examples of the fact that the sphere of influence and knowledge of God comes through the heart, but if the heart is wicked how can it seek after God? If our hearts are depraved, why do they mean so much to God?

And what about 2 Corinthians 5:17? “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” Does this verse not reference our hearts too? If we’ve chosen to follow Christ, that means we have become new people. Are our hearts exempt?

Just as I believe that the Bible is word-for-word, literal absolute truth, I believe it never contradicts itself. And if you study it, you’ll realize it never does. If we ever think it does, it’s always a lack of understanding on our part.

So, are our hearts wicked? Yes. Are our hearts new if we believe in Christ? Yes. How can those two truths be true at the same time?

Before I go any further, let me say again that I am not a scholar. I don’t speak Greek. I’m not a historian or a cultural expert. I love the Bible, and God has been my best friend for longer than I can remember. And this is an issue I have struggled with, but please don’t take my word for it. This is just my opinion on what the Bible says about this topic. It’s so much better (and it means so much more) if you work out what you believe on your own rather than trusting what I say or what someone else says.

That being said, also remember that this devotional today is directed at Believers. If you haven’t made the choice to follow Christ, that’s your prerogative. But just so you are aware, Believers have a lot of choices to make even after they choose to follow Christ. It’s not just a box you check on a form. Yes, our lives and our spirits are redeemed, but we aren’t made perfect. We don’t always make the right choices by virtue of our faith in Christ. That’s why we have the Bible, to help us know what is right and true. That’s why God has given us His Holy Spirit so that we can understand God’s will for our lives. So if you haven’t accepted Christ, none of this will make any sense to you. But if you have, this is probably an issue you struggle with or at least it’s a question you ask frequently.

The first thing to remember, Christians, is that every Believer is two people. Even if you have given your heart to Christ, that doesn’t mean that you are perfect. Not yet.

The best example I know about the sin nature of a Christian comes from Romans 7:14-25, where Paul is talking about his frustrations with sin.

So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

Right now, as we are living on earth as Believers in Christ, our lives have been redeemed. When God looks at us, He doesn’t see our sinful pasts or our bad choices; He sees the blood of Christ, who died to forgive us and justify us.

But within every Believer is the capacity to do horrible things. Still. Even though our hearts and our spirits are redeemed, we can still choose to do what we know is wrong. Why? Because we have the choice to be led by the Spirit or led by the Flesh. Those are really theologically biblical terms, and they sound kind of freaky. So let me try to find another way to say this.

The Flesh is your human nature. It’s your pride. It’s the “if it feels good, do it” mentality. It’s the pragmatic, the-end-justifies-the-means outlook on morality and ethics. It’s the eye-for-an-eye, grudge-holding, stony-hearted perspective on life. The Flesh is relying on your own understanding. The Flesh is living life by listening only to your emotions.

The Spirit is your second nature, if you believe in Christ. The Spirit is what God has put inside you and healed inside you so that you can be connected to Him. It’s that part of you that knows what is right and what is wrong. It’s that part of you that helps you understand Scripture, the part of you that communicates with God. It’s the whisper at the back of your mind that what you’re about to do will make God sad.

There’s no in between option. And Christians can still make decisions based on the Flesh, even though we are all called to make decisions based on the Spirit.

Okay, so where does the heart come into all this? In the devotional I posted yesterday, I said it was never a good idea to follow your heart. I probably should have been more specific. What I should have said is that it’s never a good idea to follow just your heart.

There are times when God will put a desire in our hearts. In those moments, when your heart moves you to do something, you should do it. But before you do it, you need to make sure that the desire really comes from God.

Why? Because we are two people, remember? As Believers, we have two natures living in our lives, and all too often, they get jumbled up. But there’s a way to tell when a desire comes from God or from your Flesh:

A dream that comes from God will always put others first and always bring God glory.

This is an excerpt from The Love Dare written by Stephen and Alex Kendrick:

King Solomon said, “A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.” (Ecclesiastes 10:2). Just as your heart can direct you toward hatred, lust, and violence, it can also be driven by love, truth, and kindness. As you walk with God, He will put dreams in your heart that He wants to fulfill in your life. He will also put skills and abilities in your heart that He wants to develop for His glory (Exodus 35:30-35). He will give you the desire to give (2 Corinthians 9:7) and worship (Ephesians 5:19). As you put God first, He will step in and fulfill the good desires of your heart. The Bible says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). But the only time you can feel good about following your heart is when you know your heart is intent on serving and pleasing God.

A great friend of mine (who really is a Bible scholar) posted a response to yesterday’s blog that I thought was pretty awesome and explained the root of the issue succinctly.

Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything else flows from it.” Some versions say it’s the “wellspring of life.” This does not mean put your heart under lock and key and never share it with anyone, but actually more the opposite. It’s telling us to be careful what we let IN to our hearts because everything else/life flows FROM it! Once something gets in, it corrupts what flows out, whether for good or for bad. So the problem of letting sin into our hearts is that we can no longer trust our hearts. However:

“When you make God your primary passion, He transforms all the passions of your heart. The result of this transformation is that it will be God’s pleasure to fulfill those passions. Beyond this wonderful promise is the realization that when this transformation occurs, your passions become your best compass for your spiritual journey. When God is your desire, you can trust the passions of your heart.” – Erwin McManus (Uprising)

So in essence, it’s better to make the term “Just follow God’s heart.” Because everything else (life!) flows from it. Literally.

And I like that. Follow God’s heart. Because you know you can trust God’s heart. And if you are truly intent on doing what God wants, if you are truly seeking Him first and following the Spirit’s lead in your life, you probably can trust your heart too … but only because those qualities represent God’s heart in your life. And it’s a daily (hourly, mintely?) choice to keep following God’s heart because it’s not our default setting.

Living in Truth by admitting we have done wrong

Today’s verse is 1 John 1:7.

 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

What does it mean to live in the light “as God is in the light”? A long time ago I listened to a message by our youth pastor at the time, John Ulrich, who spoke about what “light” is. Light is such a powerful metaphor. It can be used for so many different concepts, but generally when the Bible refers to light, it’s using the term as a symbol for Truth.

Light reveals things. Light shows things that want to stay hidden. Light opens the eyes of blind people so that they can see what is real and what isn’t. Truth does the same thing, so I think it’s an apt comparison.

So with that understanding, the verse is saying that we need to live in Truth as God is in Truth. Well . . . God is Truth. There’s no separation there. So does that mean we need to live in God?

Instead of me fumbling around trying to understand this single verse, I’m going to put the whole section up, starting with 1 John 1:5.

5 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

Amazing how adding a few extra verses in there clears it up, isn’t it? It’s always best to let the Bible interpret itself.

God is light (God is Truth). There’s nothing bad in Him. But there are people in the world who call themselves Christians who are living in spiritual darkness. They don’t read the Bible. They don’t understand what it means to follow Christ. They either believe in a religion or they follow a man’s teaching. They have no interest in pursuing God’s truth because they are perfectly satisfied with what the world has pawned off as truth.

These verses say that those people who say they are Christians but continue to live a life that isn’t guided by Truth–by God and by the Bible–are lying. That’s kind of heavy.

But aren’t we saved by faith? Doesn’t the Bible say elsewhere that our works have nothing to do with our salvation?

That’s true. But in James, the Bible tells us that our works demonstrate the presence of our faith. It’s not our actions that save us (our by that same token our inaction that condemns us); our actions are an outward representation of an invisible change that has taken place inside our hearts.

So if someone claims to be a Christian but doesn’t follow Christ and has no interest in studying the Bible and feels no desire to learn more about God . . . . think about it.

But the main verse for today isn’t about identifying “real” Christians. Honestly, that’s not even our job. We aren’t supposed to go around deciding whether someone is saved or not. That’s not our business. That’s not our job. And we can’t do it anyway because we can’t see peoples’ hearts. The only person I am responsible for is myself . . .  Maybe if I can ever get myself under control I can move on to helping other people control themselves, but the chances of me ever achieving that one are fair to partly cloudy.

What 1 John 1:7 says to me this morning is that if I live my life by God’s Truth — that if I act and live and breathe and move based according to the principles in the Bible — I will have true, unbroken fellowship with other Christians who are living the same way. And what’s more, a life lived according to God’s Truth will keep me from sinning.

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross saved me from sin, but by living a life based in God’s Truth, I will have the strength and the weapons I need to keep myself from doing the things that hurt me and my walk with Christ.

And I guess all this leads up to the question of how do we live a life of Truth? Like I said, you need to apply biblical principles in your life. The biggest of which comes in this same chapter, starting in verse 8.

 8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

Everybody sins. And by refusing to acknowledge that I sin, I’m lying to myself and I’m calling God a liar.

I am a sinner. That’s the truth.

God is just. That’s the truth.

God justifies the ungodly through Jesus Christ, and all we have to do is ask. That is truth.

The best way to live in Truth is to tell God what I have done wrong and trust Him to forgive me. That is Truth. And I need to keep doing that on a daily basis because I do wrong every day, every moment of every day, and by continually confessing my sins to God it keeps my perspective true. It makes me remember that I am not responsible for my salvation. It’s through Christ alone.

The second Adam

I’m so thankful God gives us second chances. And third chances. And fourth chances. And 100th chances. No matter how hard I try, I still end up doing what I know is wrong. So knowing that He will always be there for me is comforting, especially when I’m struggling with guilt in the aftermath.

I get so frustrated with myself because it’s so easy to think any sin I commit isn’t as big a deal as other people (there’s my pride issue creeping back in again). But Jesus said even thinking about committing a sin is just as bad as if you had done it. If you look down on murderers, have you ever hated someone? If you look down on adulterers, have you ever had an innappropriate thought? Just thinking about it is tantamount to doing it.

We’re all the same. And all our sin is the same. Just because some of us think about it instead of doing it doesn’t make us any different. Or any better.

Many people curse Adam, the first Man, for the sin he committed in Eden — eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil when he knew he wasn’t supposed to. And even when I was little, I wondered why he had done it. Why he had sacrificed all of us for a piece of fruit. But the truth is, folks, Adam didn’t know about us. He didn’t know that there would be uncountable billions of people who descended from him thousands and thousands of years later. He was human. He had no clue about the consequences of his sin. Just like us.

We stumble along in life doing what we want to do because we want to do it, and we have no idea how our actions are going to affect our children and our children’s children and our children’s children’s children. But we don’t think about that because it’s too big for us to wrap our heads around.

And we curse Adam for failing us in the garden? Adam did the best he could. He was the best shot we had. Otherwise, God would have made someone else instead of Adam.

Our sin deserved death. People think death means something it doesn’t most of the time. In our normal human connotation, death means the end of life as we see it. But death in the Bible just means separation. Physical death is separation of the Soul and Spirit from the body. Spiritual death is separation of the spirit from God. With Adam’s sin, because all of us are descended from Adam, we were all born spiritually dead, doomed to spend the rest of eternity separated from God when our bodies die.

That’s why God sent Jesus to die for us. Jesus was the second Adam, the second chance for the human race to have a relationship with God.

1 Corinthians 15:20-22

20But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

 21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.

Adam was the best hope we had, and he blew it. Not because he was a bad person. On the contrary, I’m sure he was a great guy. I’m excited to meet him someday soon. But he was still human.

Jesus was human, but He was also God. Able to feel everything a human feels, to struggle with everything a human struggles with. But God enough to overcome all of it. And Jesus didn’t fail. He triumphed victoriously, and because of His sacrifice on the cross, anyone who believes in Him can be restored to a one-on-one relationship with God.

Does that mean that those who believe are automatically perfect?

Yeah, right. I wish.

Believing makes us right with God, but it doesn’t get rid of our smelly old sin nature. We’ll still struggle with that until the day Jesus comes back to take us home.

But even though we still sin, it doesn’t mean that we forfeit the new life we’ve been given through Christ. He paid for all our sins with His one sacrifice. I don’t know about some of you, but all my sins were in the future when Christ died for me. So any sin I commit tomorrow is already paid for. Nothing I do or say or think is enough to separate me from God again now. It’s out of my hands. And I’m glad. After all, my hands don’t really accomplish a lot when left to their own devices.

So if you’re creeping back before the throne of God today like I am, asking for your 490th chance, remember that the price has already been paid. No matter the sin, no matter the severity, no matter how many other chances you’ve already had, it’s taken care of.

Faith is only the beginning

How many people think living the Christian life is easy? How many Christians operate under the delusion that once they’ve given their lives to Christ, everything will work out and be easy and perfect and they’ll never have to struggle with anything again?

I think the Christian community we live in now, in 21st Century America, has communicated that accepting Christ is the hard part and living life with Him (and for Him) is easy.

In a certain light, that’s true. Living for Christ is easy in that it’s easy to know what decisions you need to make; He has told us quite clearly in the Bible what we’re supposed to do and what we’re not supposed to do. What’s difficult is actually doing it. What’s difficult is waking up every morning and reminding yourself that you have chosen to live for God and that your life needs to reflect that. What’s difficult is staying positive and continuing to believe that God is going to work everything out when you are in the middle of a storm that never seems to end.

So many Christians I have spoken to get the idea that once they accept Christ all their troubles will be over, and that’s not true. Living the Christian life is hard. Doing the right thing is hard.

When we decide to believe in Christ, when we choose to place our faith in Christ, we become a new person, yes. But the old person we used to be is still rattling around inside of us. And the world outside us doesn’t change either. Our faith is all that has changed.

Faith is another thing I think a lot of Christians get confused about. I think people believe that once they decided to trust Christ that everyone gets this magical ability to simply believe everything God says without question. Again. Not true.

Having faith doesn’t mean you don’t question. Having faith means you believe even if you have questions.

Faith is a gift that God gives us, yes. And when we accept Christ, God gives us the faith to believe Him, but that doesn’t mean that our faith is automatically big enough to handle the truly difficult struggles of our lives. No. It needs to grow.

Have you ever met anyone with incredible faith? Someone who God could allow anything — absolutely anything — to come into their lives and they wouldn’t bat an eyelash? I have met many people like this, but I can tell you that they weren’t “born” with that kind of faith. They had to develop it. Their faith was small when they started, but they put God to the test, and He never let them down. And when their faith was tested, they hung on to it and when the trial was over, they came out stronger for it.

The passage today is a long one, and I went ahead and included the beginning verses, too, just for context. 2 Peter 1:3-8 says this:

 3 By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. 4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

5 In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

 8 The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 2 Peter says that when we came to faith in Christ, God gave us everything we would need to live a godly life. And not only that, He gave us a way to escape a life of darkness and sadness caused by the world.

But how?

I think it’s interesting how lazy a lot of Christians are (myself included). Maybe it’s the influence of modern-day America. I don’t know. Or maybe it’s a knee-jerk reaction to legalism. That could be.

Let me be very clear so I don’t miscommunicate this. There are nothing we can do that will save us. Works don’t make us right with God. Only belief in Christ allows us to have a relationship with God.

That being said, faith is just the beginning of that relationship. If you don’t work at your faith — if you don’t take steps to help it grow — it will stay small and ineffective and your life as a Christian will not be what God intended it to be.

You must have faith. But according to this verse, to live a godly life, you need to supplement your faith with a few things. And this list is in an order for a reason. If you think about it, you have to have each one in order before you can attain the next one.

Once you have faith, you need to have moral excellence. You need to be aware of what is right and what is wrong, and when you are given the chance to do wrong, you need to choose to do what is right, even if it’s difficult.

Once you have moral excellence, learn. Gain knowledge. About anything and everything that will help you live a godly life, that will help you be effective in ministry. If you can understand morality, you will be able to know what is right and what is wrong and will be able to see what knowledge is beneficial and what isn’t.

Once you have knowledge, you must have self-control. You can’t just walk around spouting off all the facts that you’ve learned. You could confuse other people. You can’t walk around telling people how to live. That’s not your place. So you need to learn to control yourself.

And when you’ve learned to control yourself (the most difficult person to control, and–really–the only person you can control), learn how to endure patiently. It doesn’t matter if it’s people or situtations. God allows them into your life for a reason, and you can learn something from them.

After that, learn godliness. Learn what it means to be truly like God. Know His characteristics and do what you can to incorporate them into your life. Obviously, there are some aspects of God that we can’t ever be like (omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.) but there are qualities that we can share. His creativity (not that we can create anything, but we can come up with new ideas). His love. His joy.

The next step is brotherly affection. Learn to love your fellow Christians. This is hard because oftentimes Christians are the hardest people in the world to love. But if another person believes in Christ, that person is our brother or our sister, and God has commanded that we love each other.

And after you learn how to love fellow Christians, show love to everyone. Love the people around you who aren’t Christians. Love the people around you who think they’re Christians. Love the people who hate you. Love everyone.

Do you see what this is? It’s a process.

When you first come to know Christ, your faith makes you whole. Yes. That’s done. It’s immediate. Have faith in Christ and be saved from your sins.

But the life you live after you decide to have faith is a step-by-step, day-by-day process that will take the rest of your life on Earth. It’s not something that happens overnight, and it’s not easy. And there are good days and there are bad days, but the more you grow in your faith, the more effective you will be as a Christian. The more you live like this, the more useful you will be to God.

Faith is a choice. Living it is a series of choices. But as 2 Peter already said, we already have everything we need to live like this. We just have to look for it. And if we ever get turned around, we have the Bible as our roadmap.