The third1 of the apostle Peter’s seven marks of grace, that we should add to our faith, is temperance2. This is none other than the exertion of the regenerated will of your new man, in the power of the Holy Spirit, over the lusts of the old man in order to restrain yourself from sin and to keep the moral law of God3. If you have no temperance (no self-control), then you will not manifest virtue4 (moral excellence) in your life, because it will be always pushed out by the exertion of your old nature.
As with all these marks of grace on Peter’s list, this temperance (self-control) must come from God. So, your prayer should be that of the Psalmist: “Quicken me after thy lovingkindness; so shall I keep the testimony of thy mouth” (Psalm 119:88). If you are quickened by God “after his lovingkindness”, then your desire will be to promise God (or, covenant with God) that you will keep his moral law—the “testimony of [his] mouth”. Keeping such a promise requires temperance.
Add temperance to your faith, virtue and knowledge. Exercise temperance—show your faith by manifesting self-control. And God, after his lovingkindness, i.e. because of his love for you, will even further quicken you in this.
God enables Christians to live this way.
Fourthly, to temperance Peter commands us to add patience5 to our living the faith-filled, virtuous life of temperance. In other words—bearing up, carrying on, remaining strong, standing fast, persevering, enduring to the end. By patience, our virtue and temperance (and all the other marks of grace in Peter’s list) should become an ongoing, growing, and strenthening characteristic of our manner of life, not merely a shiny speck that flashes on us on rare occasions. By our growing patience, our virtue and temperance (and all the other marks of grace in Peter’s list) should become an ongoing, growing, and strenthening characteristic of our manner of life, not merely a shiny speck that flashes on us on rare occasions.
However, it is true that our progress in the Christian life is often sadly minimal, slumbering, far less than whole-hearted. And we are sometimes thrown into a “dungeon” of doubt. Or we may suffer a deserved affliction in order to chastise us (see Matthew 14:31; Luke 22:32; Romans 14:1-2, 21; 1 Corinthians 8:7-13; 1 Timothy 2:8; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Hebrews 12:1-13).
Too often—and even once is too often—we fail to delight in God, honour God, serve God, pray to God or please God as we should. But true Christians are always brought to their senses by the heart-renewing grace of God. And they are always brought to their knees [in their souls at least, even if not physically capable of this action)—to pray for forgiveness and deliverance.
So, we must repent and lay aside those sins which so easily beset us, and again and again we must patiently put on virtue and temperance. And in earnest we must seek to pursue the God of holiness, because our regenerated souls do love him (Song of Songs 1:7; 3:1-4; 1 Peter 3:10-13).
Patience yields an abundant harvest
The Lord Jesus Christ identifies Christians as those people who are like good ground on which the seed falls—and when it grows up it yields fruit (Matthew 13:8, 23). In the parable, “The seed is the word of God,” says Jesus (Luke 8:11). The good ground is emblematic of the person whose heart has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit—for not one fallen human being has an honest and good heart. Jesus says these “good ground” people “heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
Fruit-bearing is the evidence of the true Christian. Others may appear to be Christians for a while. They may even “with joy receive” the word of God at first (Matthew 13:20)—but they have no true faith to stand as a Christian through the “tribulation” and “persecution” (v.21) that specifically targets Christians; or else they allow themselves to be seduced to abandon their pretence of Christianity by “the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches” (v.22). And so they never bear the marks of the real Christian. They never were “good ground”.
As the apostle James would say, theirs was a dead faith, not a living Christian faith, because no good works (“fruit”) have come from it (James 2:17, 26).
In our Lord’s parable, this (grain crop) fruit-bearing symbolises the life of God-pleasing, law-keeping, patiently-persevering virtuousness. And notice again that this receiving the Word of God (i.e. learning the contents of the Bible by reading, hearing, preaching, personal study, etc. and acknowledging that it is indeed the word of God), and then growth in faith and the virtuous life, all requires sustained effort, or patience. “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
Fruit-bearing comes from a persevering, diligent application of the soul to Bible study, prayer, service, witness, worship, communion with God and edifying Christian fellowship, and being convicted to stop a sinful habit or to start a virtuous habit—and then actually getting on and doing it.
Consider the words of James: “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:21-25).
Fifthly, the apostle Peter also commands us to add godliness6 to our patience, knowledge, temperance, virtue and faith. He is here commanding us to worship God well and serve God well, i.e. in a whole-heartedly devout and reverential manner. To be godly is to fear God (fear in the sense of revere). To worship and serve God well involves our all—striving to keep the “great commandment in the law”7, which is to love the Lord your God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:36-38; see Deuteronomy 6:5; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).
This godliness grows with accumulating experience and expertise. This godliness will contribute to the life of faith, virtue, knowledge and patience, as we strive to please God in a reverent and devoted life.
In the word godliness is implied both obedience to the God-given (i.e. Biblically regulated) principles of worship and obedience to the God-given lifestyle-principles of the moral law. An entire devotion to God. While virtue means to put on a God-glorifying manner of life; godliness means to put on this manner of life so well as to expel (put off) all that is sinful and dishonouring to God.
The most godly man who ever lived is, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. And according to the apostle Paul, we are to “put…on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14).
“Sin no more,” commands the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:14; 8:11). And as Peter says elsewhere, “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3). “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee,” says the Psalmist (Psalm 119:11). Will you not do the same?
The truly Christian life grows more and more to be a godly, Christ-like life.
- We are continuing from the previous chapter.↩
- The Word translated temperance (εγκρατεια, enkrateia) means self-control (Vine’s Expository Dictionary). ↩
- See chapter 34, Work out Your Own Salvation.↩
- See chapter 41, Add To Your Faith (1): Virtue. ↩
- The word translated patience is ΄υπομονη (hupomone), meaning abiding under (i.e. enduring) (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).↩
- The word here translated godliness is ευσεβεια (eusebeia); ευ- means well (i.e. good, or fine); σεβομαι means devout, reverential (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).↩
- More shall be said about this greatest commandment when we consider Peter’s final word in this list: charity. See chapter 44, Add To Your Faith (4): Brotherly Kindness and Charity.↩