A Symphony of Transformation – 2 Peter 1:5-7

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Romans 12:2 challenges us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” That’s all well and good, but what does that mean in practical everyday terms. One answer might come from 2 Peter 1:5-7 where we read:

“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, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”

It might be easy to assume that this is a progression where you start with faith, move up the ladder to goodness, then to the rest. But in his article on 2 Peter in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Kenneth Gangel says this: “In this beautiful paragraph Peter orchestrates a symphony of grace. To the melody line of faith he leads believers to add harmony in a blend of seven Christian virtues which he lists without explanation or description.”[1]

A symphony of Christian virtues combining to create an amazing harmony, reflecting the character of God in the Christian. Wow.

There is so much to be said for each of these seven virtues. In fact, many years ago I attended a Bible study we spent about two hours each week discussing each one. We won’t go that far here, but we will try to give you a bit of insight into what each one means in practical terms. 

We begin with faith. It’s interesting that Peter doesn’t tell us to “add” faith. Rather, as William McDonald explains, “Peter assumes faith. After all, he is writing to Christians—to those who have already exercised saving faith in the Lord Jesus. So he does not tell them to furnish faith; he assumes that they already have it.”[2] According to Ephesians 2:8-9, faith itself is a gift from God: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Before an orchestra begins to play, all the instruments are tuned. One single instrument (often the first chair violinist or the oboist) will play an “A,” and each member will tune their instrument to that one note, ensuring that once the concert begins, all the instruments will be in perfect harmony. Faith, in a sense, becomes that tuning “A,” that note that ensured all the other virtues will create a harmonious sound in the Christian’s life.

We move on to goodness, also translated moral excellence or virtue.  The Greek word used here, arete, Michael Green says:

was used to denote the proper fulfilment of anything. The excellence of a knife is to cut, of a horse to run. But what is the excellence of a man?…  Peter hints strongly at the answer. For he has already used this word in verse 3, when speaking of the impact of Christ’s character on a man which leads him to commitment. Here he claims that the same quality of life is to be worked out in the character of the believer. The Christian must work out the salvation which God works in him. In a word, his life must reflect something of the attractive character of Christ.[3]

Next, we find knowledge, which Kenneth Gangel defines as “spiritual knowledge which comes through the Holy Spirit and is focused on the person and Word of God.”[4] Further, Michael Green explains of the Greek word gnosis that:

“[Johann] Bengel has caught its meaning when he describes it as the wisdom ‘which distinguishes the good from the bad, and shows the way of flight from the bad’ (cf. Heb. 5:14). This knowledge is gained in the practical exercise of goodness, which, in turn, leads to a fuller knowledge of Christ (v. 8; cf. John 7:17).”[5]

In other words, the goal of, for example Bible study, is not to gain knowledge of the Bible. Rather, it is to learn from the Bible, through the action of the Holy Spirit, those things you need to know to live godly in this present age. As 2 Peter 1:8 says as long as these qualities are in you and are increasing, “they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Next, we are to exhibit self-control. Harking back to the orchestral theme, Kenneth Gangel says, “In an increasingly anarchistic society Christians do well to let the music of self-control be played in their lives.”[6] Exercising self-control means that you control your passions rather than letting them control you. Michael Green says, “Christian self-control is submission to the control of the indwelling Christ; and by this means mature virtue (what Aristotle wistfully called ‘divine virtue which is beyond man’) does become a possibility for men.”[7]

Then, believers are called upon to persevere. “This word hypomenēn [perseverance, endurance, patience] means ‘staying under.’ It is frequently used in the New Testament to refer to constancy or steadfast endurance under adversity, without giving in or giving up (cf. Romans 5:3–4; 15:4–5; 2 Corinthians 1:6; 6:4; Colossians 1:11; 2 Thes. 1:4).”[8]

  • 1 Thessalonians 1:3 – We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • James 1:3 – you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

William McDonald adds, “We need to be constantly reminded that the Christian life is a challenge to endure. It is not enough to start off in a blaze of glory; we must persevere in spite of difficulties…. Perseverance is the art of bearing up and pressing on in the face of all that seems to be against us.”[9]

We come now to godliness. William McDonald comments, “Our lives should be like God, with all that means in the way of practical holiness. There should be such a supernatural quality in our conduct that others will know we are children of the heavenly Father; the family likeness should be unmistakable (1 Tim. 4:8).”[10]

This is not just surface religion. Rather, “Peter is at pains to emphasize that true knowledge of God (which they mistakenly boasted they possessed) manifests itself in reverence towards him and respect towards men.”[11]

Halley’s Bible Handbook contains an interesting illustration. It shows a headless statue with the comment, “Rather than sculpting an entirely new statue when a new emperor came to power, a new head would be placed on the old torso.” Such a thing cannot and should not be true of our Christian lives. We cannot just add a new “head” to our old religion. Our entire religious life must reflect the God who made us for Himself and whose character we emulate through these virtues we put on.

Now we add brotherly kindness. This, as Michael Green explains, is a distinguishing mark of true discipleship:

“‘If any one says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar’ (1 John 4:20). Love for Christian brethren is a distinguishing mark of true discipleship,…  As he puts it in 1 Peter, those who have been born again (1:23), must show their royal birth in royalty of behavior towards other children of the King, whatever their differences in culture, class and churchmanship. But this gift has to be worked at. Love for the brethren entails bearing one another’s burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ; it means guarding that Spirit-given unity from destruction by gossip, prejudice, narrowness, and the refusal to accept a brother Christian for what he is in Christ.”[12]

Jesus Himself said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

And finally, we come to love. Kenneth Gangel explains that while brotherly kindness is concerned for the needs of others, love (agape) desires the highest good for others. This, he says, is the kind of love God exhibits toward sinners (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9-11).[13]

Michael Green says, 

“This word agapē is one which Christians to all intents and purposes coined, to denote the attitude which God has shown himself to have to us, and requires from us towards himself….

“God’s agapē is evoked not by what we are, but by what he is. It has its origin in the agent, not in the object. It is not that we are lovable, but that he is love. This agapē might be defined as a deliberate desire for the highest good of the one loved, which shows itself in sacrificial action for that person’s good. That is what God did for us (John 3:16). That is what he wants us to do (1 John 3:16). That is what he is prepared to achieve in us (Rom. 5:5).[14]

In conclusion, Kenneth Gangel says,

“Interestingly this ‘symphony’ begins with faith and ends with love. Building on the foundation of faith in Christ, believers are to exhibit Christlikeness by supplying these seven qualities that climax in love toward others.”[15]

And the apostle Peter concludes this section of his epistle with these words:

“For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8-11)

  1. Kenneth O. Gangel, “2 Peter,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), p. 865.
  2. William McDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Second Edition (Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition), p. 4498.
  3. Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 18, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987).
  4. Gangel, The Bible Knowledge Commentary.
  5. Green, 2 Peter and Jude.
  6. Gangel, The Bible Knowledge Commentary. 
  7. Green, 2 Peter and Jude.
  8. Gangel, The Bible Knowledge Commentary
  9. McDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, p. 4501.
  10. Ibid., p. 4502.
  11. Green, 2 Peter and Jude
  12. Ibid.
  13. Gangel, The Bible Knowledge Commentary.
  14. Green, 2 Peter and Jude.
  15. Gangel, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, emphasis added.

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