Christlikeness, Day by Day
By Mike Johnson, first published in Compass Winter issue 2023
If the Spirit of God lives in a person, change is inevitable. How could it not be so? He is the Spirit of truth,1 God’s agent of transformation.2 God loves and wants the best for His children, so He transforms them to be more like the only man who has walked the earth perfectly, Jesus Christ.3
So how does this transformation to Christlikeness occur? The Apostle Peter in a letter written from a Roman prison shortly before his death teaches about this. In 2 Peter 1:3-4 he affirms that it’s the work of God’s power. He is the one who gives us everything we need for a life of godliness. He is the one who has given to us a new divine nature as He had promised to all those who believe4 and He is the one who, by His Spirit, works in us to live this new life in Christ.
Yet at the same time, Peter exhorts his readers (and us) to make every effort to grow in the qualities of this new life (vs 5-8). As the Holy Spirit does his part, so we must do ours. We must respond as Christ’s disciples who bear much fruit5 so proving our calling and election (vs 8).
So, what are the qualities that Peter refers to that we must practice increasingly? He says that first off our faith is going to lead to virtue or moral excellency (vs 5).
Virtue – what a strange sounding word for most in our day. This, however, has not been the case historically. Greek and Roman philosophers as well as the Jews and Christians were in general agreement about what were the great virtues and vices of humanity from which all goodness and evil resulted.6 The classical definition of the vices were the seven deadly sins.7 For Christians, the Beatitudes8 were Jesus’ remarkable contrasting virtues of a Kingdom disciple.
Peter says that a sincere faith will inevitably lead to moral excellency of character in a person’s life marked by these traits. Yet as a disciple of Jesus excels in virtue, they will also make every effort to increase in knowledge. Not, I think, what you might learn at university, but the type of knowledge that can only be known via the Spirit of God. That which is spiritually discerned from a newly resurrected heart. That which is understood through reading God’s Word prayerfully with a desire to apply and obey. It would certainly lead to an increase in knowledge of the nature and attributes of God, His will and His mission.
Then for the disciple of Jesus, knowledge must lead to action. We must be doers, not merely hearers who deceive themselves by their lack of action.9 So Peter says that our increase in knowledge must lead to an increase in self-control. Active, decisive control of our inner passions and desires resulting in control of our thoughts, our tongues, our eyes. Self-control that leads to appropriateness in relationships, work practices and use of social media. Control of our emotions, use of time and ambitions.
Yet this life of moral excellency, increasing knowledge and active self-control, must be sustained for a lifetime. So, Peter exhorts his readers to make every effort to also be increasingly steadfast in these things. Not to let them waver when tested by hardship, suffering or persecution. To overcome by not loving their lives even to death.10
This will lead to increasing godliness. Like Jesus, who took up his cross by the will of the Father, so we, too, become more and more like God in our actions and character as we unwaveringly take up our cross daily and follow him.
But this sort of dedication and discipleship when lived by grace will not become hardnosed or prickly. Rather it will be full of brotherly affection and love. Not only will people sit up and take notice of the followers of Christ’s love for one another,11 but will experience that love even when they are enemies.12 What a fitting completion to Peter’s list of qualities for the follower of Christ.
So how are you going as a disciple of Jesus Christ? Are these qualities yours and increasing?
Friends, let’s be diligent to confirm our calling and election as well as keep ourselves from falling by practicing these Christlike qualities.
1 John 14:16-17
2 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
3 See Romans 8:29 for a clear statement of this goal
4 Ezekiel 36:25-27 (see also John 3:3 and 2 Corinthians 5:17)
5 John 15:8
6 See the introduction to Steering through Chaos, by Os Guinness, Navpress, 2000
7 Pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, lust
8 Matthew 5:3-12. Poverty of spirit (humility, selflessness), mourning, meekness, hunger & thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure, peacemakers, rejoice in persecution
9 James 1:22
10 Revelation 12:11
11 John 13:34-35
12 Matthew 5:43-48
Mike Johnson is the leader of our Melbourne Community.
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