Seven Steps of Spiritual Advance

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 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. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. (2Pe 1:2–7)

The goal that God sets before every one of His children is conformity to Jesus Christ. The godliness that Peter refers to in 2Pe 1:3 is the function of spirituality; it is Christ living in and through us (Col 1:27). It is the most awesome potential in the universe, and yet we can either be hungry for it or apathetic and indifferent to it. Before spiritual growth can become a reality, there has to be inner motivation. We have to want to grow, and that is a choice each of us has to make for ourselves. Once we have made the decision to grow, we have to stick to it; we have to, as Peter says, apply every ounce of diligence we have.

Parmphero, “apply,” is a word that means “to bring in beside, to contribute, to bring something in on your own.” Spoude, translated “diligence,” means “earnestness, zeal.” Pareisphero is an aorist active participle here; the aorist participle in Greek always precedes the action of the main verb, and the active voice always implies personal choice. The main verb,”supply,” relates to each of seven steps of growth. Peter is saying here that until we choose to bring in our own motivation, until we decide we want to get with God’s plan, we will not grow. But, if we will decide to get and stay motivated, we can expect to move through seven steps of spiritual advance:

  1. Excellence. The word “moral” used in the New American Standard translation does not occur in the Greek. The word arete, which can be translated “virtue,” refers to the demonstration of power; in this case, to the filling of the Holy Spirit. This is the same word used in verse 3 for the function of divine excellence. To the faith with which we begin the Christian life, we have to supply the power of the Spirit of God. That means we have to know how to be—and stay—filled with the Holy Spirit .
  2. Knowledge. Once we understand how to be filled with the Spirit, then we have to study; we have to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2Pe 3:18). It will take diligence, spiritual hunger, and a humility that is willing to admit we do not know everything there is to know. Only the filling of the Spirit makes the perception of the Word of God possible (1Co 2:12–14),.
  3. Self-control. This is from en, “in,” and kratos, “authority.” The filling of the Holy Spirit plus the continued perception of the Word of God sets up a system of inner authority in the soul. We begin to control ourselves not just because some other person is watching, but because we are servants of God. We know how to act under the authority of the Word in our souls, and so we can be confident in life.
  4. Perseverance. This is from hupo, “under,” and meno,”abide.” It beautifully illustrates the faith-rest life. It is persistence and stamina— the ability to abide under pressure, to stand no matter how much we are suffering. If we are filled with the Spirit, if we are dedicated to the study of the Word of God, and if we have a system of inner authority that gives us confidence, then we will exercise persistence and stamina in the faith-rest life. We will endure; we will stick with the plan. We know that every advance in knowledge and self-control will be tested to prove its genuineness (Jam 1:2–3; Jam 1:12; 1Pe 1:6–8), so we will need perseverance.
  5. Godliness. Conformity to Christ is godliness. In 1Ti 3:16, Paul talks about the great mystery of godliness, “God was manifest in the flesh” (KJV). If God manifest in the flesh is the mystery of godliness, then godliness in the Christian life means conformity to the person of Christ.
  6. Brotherly kindness. This is philadelphia, “the love of brothers.” It is royal family love, and we will never love the royal family of God until we have really begun to be conformed to Christ. When we have, we will be able to look at every other believer and say, “That person’s life and growth are important to me.” And we will begin to go out of our way for other believers because we see the eternal significance of their lives.
  7. Love. This is agape, the love that only God can produce. It is not an emotion or a feeling; it is a passion for man’s ultimate good. It is never casual; it is always sacrificial (Joh 3:16; Rom 5:8). Agape is not based on anything inherently lovable in the object, and it does not demand to be loved in return. Paul tells Timothy in 1Ti 1:5 that the goal of all our instruction—the telos, the objective, the end of the race, the destination of the life of faith—is agape. Not just to receive, but to manifest, the love of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. Love is the greatest commandment (Mat 22:37–40; Rom 13:9–10), the greatest motivator (2Co 5:14–15), and the most enduring power in the universe—everything else in life will fail, but love never will (1Co 13:8).

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