The people of God are to be zealously engaged in doing the good works God has ordained (Eph.2:10; Tit.2:14). These works are to be performed by the people of God in two ways, neither of which cancels the other, namely; individually and congregationally. In this article our attention is directed to a discussion of the Christian at work.
The newly converted person enters the family of God by the new birth a new creature, having been purified and cleansed from all past sins (Jno.3:3-5; Rom.6:3-4; 2 Cor.5:17; 1 Pet.1:22-23). God's goal for each new born child is that he be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom.8:29). To accomplish this, Christ must be formed in the new son (Gal.4:19), dwelling in the heart by faith (Eph.3:17), as he follows the sinless example of the Son of God (1 Pet.2:21-22).
No one attains to this perfection without effort. Girding up the loins of the mind, being sober, obedient and holy demand work for which we shall be judged (1 Pet.1:13-17). Laying aside all our former lusts in ignorance (1 Pet.1:14), e.g., malice, guile, hypocrisies, envies and evil speaking, involves constant work by the Christian (1 Pet.2:1). None of these things come easy. Growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet.3:18) prescribes that we "desire the sincere milk of the word" that we might grow (1 Pet.2:2). Each person must develop, cultivate and activate this desire.
Peter lists seven things the Christian must work to add to his faith (2 Pet.1:5-8). The first is virtue. Virtue denotes excellence particularly as it pertains to moral goodness (cf. Vine). Having been purified by faith (Acts 15:9), the new born child stands before God without stain. Not since the day of his innocence has that person been so pure and holy but now, having been cleansed, he is to work toward maintaining that purity (excellence) in life. With Jesus before him as an example, the Christian learns to possess his vessel in sanctification (1 Thess.4:4) as he puts to death every member of his body that sins (Col.3:5-15). Without this excellence he cannot see God (Heb.12:14). "And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 Jno.3:3). No one can do this for him. Each must attain virtue by himself (Gal.6:4-5).
Next comes knowledge. Knowledge is gained by learning, and learning is augmented by study. The Christian who desires to be an unashamed workman must study rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim.2:15). Study is necessary to prove and understand the acceptable will of the Lord (Eph.5:10,17). Peter exhorts, "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Pet.3:15). Only through dedication and work can we attain unto this required posture. The rewards are worth the effort. By gaining knowledge one's understanding is enlightened (Eph.1:17-18), God's treasures of wisdom and knowledge are uncovered (Col.2:3), and His grace and peace are multiplied (2 Pet.1:2-3).
Temperance follows knowledge. By virtue one develops the desire to be the best person humanly possible. By knowledge one learns what God wants him to be, and by temperance one stays on course. In describing the Christian's life as a race, Paul said, "Every man that striveth for mastery is temperate in all things" (1 Cor.9:25). The temptation to cheat, cut corners and even quit are alternatives to which we might yield without temperance. Staying on course is not easy, but learning to control one's self helps one gain valuable experience which assists in winning the battle (Rom.5:3-4). No one can develop this ability for us. We must learn to control ourselves.
Patience follows temperance closely. One learns to stay on course by exercising temperance. For how long? Just as long as patience endures. Patience induces one's self control to abide. Patience is the ability to see it through without folding. It is not always easy to "be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (Jas.1:19) but, if we remember we must give account for every idle word we speak (Matt.12:36), perhaps we would be more prone to "let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (Jas.1:4). Patience is a work of personal development every Christian must seek to achieve. No one can do this for us.
Godliness "denotes that piety which, characterized by a Godward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to Him" (Vine, Vol.2, page 162). Godliness, like temperance, is designed to keep one on course. Temperance keeps one on course by preventing him from doing wrong. Godliness keeps one on course by projecting the proper goal before the Christian. Godliness means being devoted to one's commitment; staying on course because one earnestly desires to please the Lord. It is the attitude of heart that causes one to "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God" (Col.3:1-2). Only you can do that. No one can do it for you.
Every child of God must learn to show brotherly kindness (love of brethren) also. This is not always an easy thing to do, yet it must be done (1 Jno.2:9-11; 4:20-21). Peter instructs that since we are purified "unto the unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently" (1 Pet.1:22). We may have to work at it, indeed we will, but it is what God expects of every child of His. Even when there are conflicts of interests, attitudes and manners which are obnoxious to us, God expects us to find room in our hearts for brotherly kindness (love). This is a work of personal development each must achieve.
Also, every child of God must possess charity (love). Brotherly love is tempered by the family relationship while charity knows no bounds. The Christian must exercise love in relationship to every realm of human experience. The characteristics of this love are found in 1 Corinthians 13:1-7. Each would be blessed to make a notation of the positive traits love possesses as well as to list the negative traits love does not produce and apply them to himself to see if he possesses love. Do you truly love your wife or husband, children, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors, etc.? This is not always easy to do, yet it can be done by each if we work to achieve it.
Other lists of traits Christians are to develop may also be cited. Joy, peace, gentleness, meekness (Gal.5:22-23), and the qualities of tenderheartedness, forgiveness and humility must also be developed (Eph.4:32; Col.3:12-15). All of these traits that Christians are to develop provide a challenge which cannot be neglected. As Peter said, "If these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (2 Pet.1:8-10).
While there is much more the Christian is to do as service to God, it should be apparent that it would be useless for him to perform it if he refuses to grow personally. All of his other works cannot compensate for this failure any more than the success of other Christians in personal development excuse him of the responsibility. Each man must bear his own burden and prove his own work (Gal.6:4-5). Therefore, let each accept the responsibility to grow and develop as God would have us do so that we may boldly proclaim, "It is no longer I that lives, but Christ living in me" (Gal.2:20).
This article originally appeared in Guardian
of Truth magazine, November 3, 1983.
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