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Welcome back to our Evidence of Spiritual Life series. This series is designed to not only help us understand whether or not we have spiritual life, but—for those of us who do—is designed to show us the trajectory for our continued spiritual growth.
If we’re not growing in our spiritual life, it’s very likely that we don’t have spiritual life.
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And now let’s look at the second evidence of spiritual life and the next step on the road to our conformity to Christ.
The passage we’re considering is II Peter 1:1-15, but the core of this passages comes from verses 5-11, and verses 5-7 are the main focus of this series.
Unfortunately, verses 5-7 are a list of 8 evidences of spiritual life. I say “unfortunately” not because God messed up when having Peter write this letter, but because when we encounter a passage like this—if we don’t force ourselves to consider the whole counsel of God—it’s very easy for us to just glide over it and give ourselves a checkmark in every one as we go. But God has a lot to say about each of these character traits, and the more we study them from the Scripture, the harder it is to give ourselves a checkmark in them.
For example, last time we talked about faith. Generally speaking, everyone has faith, but what kind of faith do they have? In what do they have their faith? What is that faith producing in their lives? The more detail you pursue, the more revealing the answers will be.
And that’s what we want for this series, we want to have the reality and condition of our spiritual life to be revealed and matured. So, we have to be detailed.
So, what does God want us to add to our faith? Verse 5 reads, “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence.” Some translations refer to is as “virtue.”
But what is that? What does it mean to have virtue or moral excellence? If confronted on the street and asked if you are a virtuous person or a morally excellent person, I think most Christians would say, “Yes.”
So, first we need to understand what the original word meant.
1. What is Moral Excellence?
This word refers to anything that is known for being excellent and having intrinsic eminence or goodness. Its excellency is indisputable.
In fact, II Peter 1:3 was the first place we encountered this word. “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” God used this word to describe His own eminence, and now He’s using it to refer to the lifestyle that we must live.
But have you ever wondered why this very high standard for our living comes so early in the list? Many people who have studied this passage find the order of the character traits to be very interesting.
Once we understand the preeminence of faith, it’s easy to understand why it’s first on the list. It’s absolutely, foundationally, seminally necessary to all spiritual life. But why is moral excellence listed before things like knowledge? Don’t you need knowledge to become morally excellent? Isn’t self-control and kindness and love just different parts of moral excellence?
That’s a great question. This is not merely a random list. This list is deliberate, and when we understand it, we will definitely appreciate the fact that moral excellence is the next evidence of spiritual life.
So, let’s investigate this from the broader teachings of the Scripture.
When a person is unsaved, they are dead in their trespasses and sins. They are living in darkness, and the Bible makes it clear that an unbeliever can’t be righteous.
Isaiah 64:6 says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” The best that unbelievers have to offer is so unrighteous that God compares it to a piece of cloth soaked in bodily fluids!
Ecclesiastes 10:3 reveals that “Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking.” A fool is a fool even when he’s just walking down the street.
Proverbs 12:10 says, “Even the compassion of the wicked is cruel,” and Proverbs 21:4 says that when an unbelieving farmer plows his field, he’s still sinning.
Titus 1:15 teaches us that, “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.”And Romans 8:8 reveals, “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
My friends, if someone does not have spiritual life, it is 100% impossible for him or her to do anything good. They are completely in sin, and even their best attempts at righteousness can’t please God.
So, based off those observations alone, it’s clear to see why moral excellence is the necessary byproduct of life-giving faith. When a person is born again, two miraculous things happen.
A. God positionally gives us the righteousness of Christ. As Jesus took our sin on Him at the cross, so too the Father places Jesus’ righteousness on us. Some have said that when God the Father looks at us, all He sees is His Son. And to a certain degree, I agree completely. However, let’s not be delusional enough to think that means we can hide our sin and self-worship from the Father’s eyes as we crouch behind Jesus. That’s not what we mean.
So, positionally, we have virtue the moment we’re saved.
But, second, though our lives may not be completely changed the moment we’re born again . . .
B. God practically gives us the righteousness of Christ.
Moral excellence is the direct result of being born again. Matthew 5 reveals that a humble sinner who turns to God will hunger and thirst after righteousness because they’ve been righteousness-starved their entire life. And that hunger will result in mercy, purity, peacemaking, and joy.
When God makes someone alive, their behaviors are going to change because they now have access to spiritual strength and righteousness even if they don’t yet know a lot about the Bible.
But what does this moral excellence practically look like in a believer’s life?
Do you remember II Peter 1:3? “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”
First, we need to acknowledge that God is the standard of this excellence.
Now consider I Peter 2:9 in light of this truth, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
This passage further confirms that the excellencies God expects for our lives are intrinsically tied to His excellency, and we see that our virtue will be lived out in the light of God and not the darkness of sin.
Therefore, it should be easy for us to recognize that moral excellence is simply conformity to God’s will and character, and that the opposite is sin. Therefore, everything in the Bible about righteousness and sin needs to inform our understanding of Christian virtue.
But, for now, let’s consider the first part of I Peter 2:9. What kind of life will proclaim the excellencies of God?
When I present this material in a biblical counseling session I ask my counselees to give careful thought to what it means for a believer to be part of the chosen race, the royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s own possession. For their study, I present them with a number of Old and New Testament passages that talk about these different titles.
For the sake of brevity today, I’ll say that each of these categories is unique in that they are required to be unique. They have expectations on them that make them “peculiar” in the world. Of course, this makes perfect sense because the World is dark and lost, but believers have and are commanded to live in the light of God’s righteous excellence.
Because He has chosen us to offer sacrifices of spiritual obedience and to be holy as a unique possession of the all-perfect God, all Christians must grow in obedience and put off sin in our lives.
But often times that seems easier said than done. So, let’s consider . . .
2. How do we live morally excellent lives?
The only other passage in the New Testament where the Greek word translated “moral excellence” appears is in Philippians 4:8. So far, we’ve only seen Peter use this word, but Paul uses it as well as he’s instructing the Philippians in how to have genuine, abiding peace.
After explaining to them that they must rejoice in God, love their neighbor, and instead of being anxious, they need to take all of their burdens to the Lord, Paul promises that they will experience a peace that passes all understanding. But then Paul continues in verses 8-9, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
According to Philippians 4:4, we will only be able to love others and release our anxiety to God when we rejoice in Him. Rejoicing is a conscious decision to value the excellency of something.
And then in verses 8-9 Paul demonstrates that before we can ever hope to do the things we’ve learned and received and heard and seen, we must think right.
We should all know by now that action follows thinking. If you didn’t know that, I’d encourage you to listen to our Grow Your Worship series.
So, if we want to live a morally excellent life we must think morally excellent thoughts.
In Romans 12:2 we read, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
And Colossians 3:1-5 teaches, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.”
In order for us to lay aside immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, and idolatry, we must set our mind—think—on Christ.
And according to II Corinthians 10:5, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
We are literally imprisoning our thoughts to the obedience of Christ.
Listen, I understand our cultural proclivity to have “open minds,” I’m a proponent for questioning those things which we believe are true. Unless my counselees at least stop for a moment to consider that they’re wrong in how they’re living their lives, they’ll never change and glorify God.
But the other extreme is that we see people every day whose minds are so open their brains have fallen out.
The point is God has a lot to say about the boundaries and confines of our thinking, and we would be wise not to challenge those parameters.
According to I Corinthians 3 Paul uses various metaphors to illustrate the life of a believer, but then he reveals in verses 18-23 that in order to live in a Christ-honoring way, we need to reject the wisdom of the this age and embrace the foolishness of God.
In Philippians 2:1-16, Paul is going to command us to do various acts of righteousness, he’s going to use Jesus Himself to illustrate how we should live, and he’s going to tell us that it all starts in our minds. So, listen carefully to the following passage. I’m going to point out how our actions are to grow from our thoughts.
“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”
That’s such a beautiful passage full of so much truth, but there are two things I wanted us to pull from it. First, all of our doing will inevitably come from our thinking, so the only way to change our doing will be to change our thinking.
But the second thing I wanted us to see came from verse 13: “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
Okay, so let’s put all of this together.
1. Moral excellence is the standard God sets.
2. Until we submit to Him in faith, we will never be able to do anything good or pleasing to Him.
3. Once we’re born again, God gives us positional moral excellence. But it’s not limited to that.
4. Once we’re born again, God also gives us practical moral excellence. He empowers our sanctifying faith that will result in a growing moral virtue. But . . .
5. Moral behavior starts first with moral thinking. We need to have the same mind that Jesus had if we hope to live the same life He lived.
Okay, so let’s investigate our own spiritual life.
In order to know we have spiritual life, there should be an evidence of practical moral excellence which is specifically revealed in how we think and then which moves out into how we speak and act.
In order to rightly judge this moral excellence as being from God and not just the spirit of the age, it must be empowered by God, come from God, and conform to God.
We mustn’t just try to do things. Yes, I need to be kind to you, but God wants me to be kind to you because He commands me to love you, and He commands me to love you because that is what’s required of me to be holy as He is holy, and I need to be holy as He is holy because God deserves to be glorified by my perpetual sacrifice of obedience.
Therefore, I love you not to impress you or garner favor. I love you not to make anyone feel good—myself included. I love you not because of you at all. I love you not because of me at all. I love you because my mind has been taken captive to the obedience of Christ. I love you because I want nothing more than to give God what He deserves.
This is the thinking that produces the moral excellence which is the evidence of our spiritual life. Is this evidence in your life?
Now, let’s say that after our last show you concluded that saving faith is evidenced in your life, but perhaps it’s harder for you to point to genuine instances of morally excellent thinking.
My friends, a nebulous “faith” doesn’t save. Our faith needs to be alive and active. We need to be living out the fruits of our faith, and one of the first is moral excellence—Christian virtue. A faith that is not actively growing in Christ-honoring thinking is a weak evidence at best and an evidence for not being born again at worst.
So, there you have it. Does your life have the evidence of moral excellence as defined by God and His Word? No? Then my friend, trust in the God of the Bible, submit your will to His, and experience the life-giving ability to have the mind of Christ.
And for those of you who answered the last question with a, “Yes,” are you growing and maturing in your moral excellence? You will never reach a place on this earth where you perfectly possess the mind of Christ, so that means that you should always be pursuing it.
Living Christians are growing Christians. So, ask yourself this question: “How am I to think more morally?”
How do I think more like God today than I did yesterday? How are you to grow in your moral excellence?
Please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets so that others can join you in maturing their spiritual life, and never hesitate to reach out to us at Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com for personalized help.
And join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be answering the question I just asked, "How are you to grow in your moral excellence?” as we look at our third evidence of spiritual life.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
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AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.