Seven Virtues to Pursue for Spiritual Growth

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love (2 Peter 1:5-7, NIV).

Picture in your mind a Volkswagen and a 747 airplane. Now imagine the Volkswagen pulling the 747.[1] Believe it or not, a Volkswagen can actually do this, but the power of a Volkswagen could never make the thing fly!

You cannot live the Christian life apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament talks about people who have a form of godliness, but they deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). That kind of religion is rather like the Volkswagen pulling the plane. It takes a great effort, but it’s ultimately futile; it will never fly! Jesus said “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Here are seven virtues that we are to pursue vigorously in the power of the Holy Spirit. The list is similar to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, but Peter’s emphasis is on our effort to actively pursue these things: Make every effort to add these things to your faith. Go after them. Make them your own. You are not in the position of the Volkswagen trying to pull the plane. God has given you power, now stretch yourself out in the pursuit of these things this year.

I’ve found it helpful to use this as a grid for self-evaluation. You might like to use it that way in your small group or with a friend, to talk about your own spiritual growth and to set some goals and objectives.

1. Goodness (Moral excellence)

If you want to be a fruitful Christian, then you need to grow in goodness. The evidence of your faith will be seen in the goodness of your life. Peter has already told us that Christ calls us “by his own glory and goodness” (v. 3). Throughout his life, Jesus went about doing good, and the sheer moral excellence of his life compels us. A reflection of that goodness in our lives will be compelling to others.

Now Peter says to the believer, “you participate in the divine nature.” (v. 4). His Spirit lives in you, so make every effort to grow in this goodness. Pursue goodness and moral excellence with all the energy you can muster.

How can you become more active in doing good to others?

2. Knowledge (Practical wisdom)

If you want to be a fruitful Christian, you need to grow in wisdom, depth, stability, and maturity. The way that happens is through the Word of God — learned, believed, applied, and obeyed. The Bible is much more than information. David said, “Your word is a lamp to my feed and a light of my path” (Psalms 119:105). You will find direction, wisdom, and stability as you meditate on God’s Word.

What opportunities are you taking hold of for learning God’s Word? Are you taking full advantage of them?

3. Self-control (Controlling your passions instead of your passions controlling you)

Remember who’s writing this: Peter, the most impulsive man in the New Testament! The man who was once a blundering disciple is now a trusted apostle in the church of God. That’s growth! If that can happen for him, it can happen for you.

God has given you everything you need for life and godliness, so make it a life commitment to continue growing in self-control.

Where do you need to exercise more self-control? Is it in eating and drinking? Is it in what you watch? Is it in how much or how little you sleep? In what you spend? In relation to your moods, your anger, or your tongue?

4. Perseverance (Pressing on when you feel like giving up)

If you want to be useful to Jesus Christ, you need to learn perseverance. Perseverance comes from self-control. The impulsive person gives up easily. He is pushed around by what he feels at any given moment. When the impulsive person gets fed up, he wants to give up.

If you want to be useful to Jesus Christ, you need to grow out of that. Determine that you will rise above discouragement, which all of us face in our own lives. Don’t give up easily. Grow into perseverance.

Where do you need to press on? What do you feel like giving up on right now? This may be an opportunity for you to grow in character and to become a more fruitful Christian.

5. Godliness (A life that flows from a passion for God)

Worship expresses and refreshes your love for Christ. And this love comes before love for other Christians and love for the world, because love for Christ is the source of love for others and love for the world.

How is your love for Christ? What priority does worship and prayer have in your life?

6. Brotherly kindness (A generous spirit towards other believers)

The person who is really useful to Christ is always asking, “Where can I give a helping hand? How can I contribute to the lives and needs of others?”

If you are growing in brotherly kindness, you will be generous in giving and in helping. You will also be generous in your judgment of other Christians. You will be slow to think the worst of your brothers and sisters in Christ and quick to think the best.

Where can you be more generous to other Christians? Are you aware of a Christian brother or sister in financial need? Are you aware of a brother or sister who needs a helping hand? Is there a brother or sister of whom you have been thinking the worst?

7. Love (God’s compassion for the world)

It’s very significant that Peter calls us to grow in love for each other and in love for the world. Sometimes Christians who are most passionate about reaching the lost are also most critical of their Christian brothers and sisters. And sometimes Christians who are most generous to other believers are quite heartless towards the lost world. God doesn’t give us a choice between loving our brothers and loving the world. He calls us to both.

Where can you demonstrate God’s compassion for lost people? Are you aware of someone outside the church who is in need? Do you know someone who has never heard the “good news” of Jesus Christ? Do you have active friendships outside of church world?

These seven virtues are the things we are to pursue, this year and every year. Make every effort to progress in these things. Go after them with all the energy you can muster. Make them yours. Add them to your faith.

What other virtues will you pursue this year?

[1] I was privileged to speak at a missions conference a while ago. Professor Craig Ott was also teaching there, and he had this wonderful picture of a Volkswagen pulling a 747 airliner!

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Colin Smith (@PastorColinS) is senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.

Date Posted: Jan 1st, 2016