By Fred Pruitt
In Christ, your position IS your condition. That is because the New Testament is an “IS,” or an “I AM” book. Admittedly, certainly there are passages that seem as if they encourage believers into adding to themselves spiritual attributes, such as the KJV’s rendering of 2 Peter 1:3-8:
“According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.”
Let’s consider this for a moment. Peter’s first statement, really the foundation or anchor of this passage, unequivocally states that God HAS (past tense) given us “all things” having to do with our spiritual lives. We have no lack of anything. Peter even tells us that we have been given incredible, unbelievable promises, by which we partake of the Divine Nature, and that we have (already) escaped the corruption in the world through lust!
If all that IS true, and it is, why does he then go on to say, “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue … etc., …”? His phrase, “beside this,” seems to sweep away the “all in all” nature of what he had just stated, and it is as if he is asking us to “add” that which he has said is already there.
Most of us do not see that in the beginning, so we do not ask that question, thinking this is a list of qualities or attributes we need to develop in ourselves, because we have always thought that way. Which leads to the next logical question: how do I add those qualities to myself?
Does anyone really and truly have a clue? How does one “get” virtue? How does one “add” charity (love) to my life? Where would one get it?
Oh, I know there are countless books, lectures, seminars, teachings, sermons, systems and sure-fire plans that promise to develop or teach us how to develop these things, perhaps about the same number of helps out there for becoming real estate barons with no money, or how to have a successful marriage in 21 steps. They fill the book stores, both secular and “religious!”
Spiritual “systems” might include prayer, fasting, laying on of hands, study, memorization, repetitive mantra-like sayings, etc., but do they produce the goods they promise, or that we think they promise?
Someone in a group meeting said the other day – I’ve heard it so many times before – “Well, we know our spirits are perfect, but our souls still need work so we must be diligent and open to the Lord to work on our soul’s progress ….”
One wants to say sometimes, “How’s that workin’ out for ya?” but that’s TV psychologist Dr. Phil’s line, so I’ll have to think of another one.
But really, seriously, to those who are working on their souls: How is it going? How would you rate your progress thus far? If you do not believe you are where you should be, what do you think has caused it? How many of those seven qualities Peter lists have been fully developed in you? Or, as the kids say, are you “there” yet? Or, how many feel like the disciples when Jesus first met them from the shore while they were coming in from all-night fishing on the Sea of Galilee, when they had, “toiled all night, and caught nothing.” (Luke 5:5). That was me a long time ago….
Before we move on, let’s think of what it means to be “working on my soul” in order to become either, “more like” Christ, or, “more pleasing” to God. As I said above, the New Testament is an “IS” book, an “I AM” book, rather than only pointing to something coming later – the imaginary country of “I shall be.” Contrary to the whole sense of the New Testament, the imaginary “I shall be,” is actually a negation of God in the present moment, while putting forth an extremely subtle assertion of self-will and self-righteousness.
Attempting to “defeat” pride and come off as “humble,” is a trap we’ve all fallen into more than once. The very moment one thinks he/she can “develop” humility as an attribute or characteristic of Christ and the Holy Spirit in us, one is not far from Lucifer’s “I wills” in Isaiah 14:12-15. Think about it. How could we develop characteristics or attributes that belong to Christ and/or the Spirit? They’re CHRIST’S attributes! They’re the SPIRIT’S characteristics. It is the “fruit of the Spirit,” not the fruit of trying to emulate what we think would be a reasonable facsimile of a Spirit “fruit.”
Now put into the context of “working on our souls,” it is the same thing. There’s no “work” to do to have an improved soul and/or body. Simply “abiding” in the Lord and in faith walking in the Spirit takes care of the whole business. But it certainly is a nice but still deceitful self-stroking to entertain the idea of learning to put forth a better and better image out to the world, which would serve as “my” rendition of Christ in me. The whole “fallen world” would drag us down right here at this spot if it could. That is simply because it’s the “way” the world has always worked, and its current is so strong spiraling downward that it is impossible to fight, without help.
“I shall be” never arrives. The same as “tomorrow.” There must always be a milieu of defeat, of never attaining. Always in defeat. And the others listed above, are always incomplete because there are always more old patterns showing up, so we can take refuge in being “in process,” a process which is never completed. “In process” is safe because our watchword, the major identity we claim for ourselves is this: “I shall be.”
Now consider this a moment. We have all been in this place here and there, I would think. So it is common to our humanity. Does anyone see any problem with “I shall be?” After all, even though we give lip service to our spiritual progress being a function of the grace of God in us, our lifelong programming remains in place until shattered, and this whole situation is exactly what does it. Does not the quest for deep personal piety and control over the passions of our frame, especially in the ways we so often go about it, perhaps have just the slightest taint of “going about establishing our own righteousness?” We know the Lord is righteous, absolutely, of course!!!
Still, “I shall be” can mean nothing else except somehow having a righteousness of “my own” which I operate as a dutiful son of God, eventually. It’s the “eventually” part that hangs us. Like the “I’m not there yet” people. While it sounds as if we are hearing self-effacing humility, to confess we’re not there yet. But the “I shall be” part is the crux, and instead of expressing true humility, we are subtly trapped again into attempting to establish our own righteousness.
To “claim” to no longer be “in process,” means we have replaced our former identity of, “I shall be,” now with, in Him, “I am – now.” The Spirit of Christ in us has shifted our perspective, saying, “Friend, come up higher.” (Luke 14:7-14).
It is no longer, “I,” as solitary and singular, imprisoned in my own self-hypnosis foisted upon me by the enemy. The Resurrection is Blinding Light pouring out of every fiber of me, as if through a sieve, fire from head to toe, burning in a flash the dross and the dust, swallowing up my fallen flesh in the inner transfiguration. Here we are now, not just ourselves, but now even Moses and Elijah have appeared, with Jesus the Son of Man, every one of us transfigured in that same fully-penetrating all-engulfing LIGHT. A sight to behold and even more to live in, nothing more can be said.
Let’s look again at that passage from 1 Peter, cited above. The NASB (New American Standard Bible) renders it this way:
“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.”
There is something quite different, the way it reads in NASB, from our normal idea of “adding” those qualities to ourselves. And this meaning is in context with what Peter had stated just a couple of sentences before, that we already have all things we need pertaining to godliness, because we partake of the “Divine Nature.”
Peter is saying that all those qualities are “included” in Christ, and exhorts us through our faith to acknowledge them. Notice how one seems to be contained within the one that preceded it. “In your moral excellence, knowledge, in your knowledge, self-control, in your self-control, perseverance, etc.”
This is exactly what I have been talking about for a long time – consciousness! Like Adam naming the animals. Naming the animals gave them particularity in his perception, understanding and consciousness. Until he named them, they were just creatures that ran all around that he barely noticed. But when he calls one a bear, suddenly he notices that he begins to see other bears that he hadn’t really noticed before.
It is the same with the attributes Peter lists. The reason Peter brings them up is NOT, I repeat NOT, so that we can devise a system whereby we might acquire these properties. There is absolutely nothing anyone could do to “develop” these qualities, because if we could, we would not need the Holy Spirit, and therefore we would be right back to “acting” again. These are Divine qualities, belonging only to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No work of man can by any means produce the Divine qualities. Only the Spirit can produce them in us for it to be genuine. Flesh cannot produce spirit. It is the other way around.
However, even though we have understood it that previous way, what Peter is really saying to us, is that in our faith we diligently recognize each of these properties one by one, each coming out of the other and the Spirit Who dwells in us. Just like the rivers of living water which come out of those who believe, even so are these qualities already in residence in those who believe.
It is the “believe/faith” part that gives them recognition in our consciousness, thus in some sense fully activating them through that recognition. It is getting to know one’s equipment. These promises and benefits are not merely “rewards” for excellent service, or “just part of the package with Christ.” They are instead, part of the means whereby Christ is manifest and expressing Himself in our world. They come as an outflow of the Spirit which is continuous, watering all our gardens. They require no practice, just the daily living of being our new selves in Christ in spontaneity and overflowing life. We will always be tempted to think they are not there, but if we are in Christ they most certainly ARE there. That is our daily exercise of faith.