And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;2 Peter 1:5 (KJV)
Biblical Christianity is profoundly freeing because it inverts humanity’s natural, twisted thinking and sets it right side up. We see an example of such a scenario in Peter’s words here. He tells us to add virtue to our faith.
Man-made religions, moral systems, and philosophies teach the opposite – that we are to add faith to our virtue. These claim that man finds his purpose, be that through reaching enlightenment, heaven, or self-actualization, by being good and doing good things.“Works based attempts at salvation always fail to satisfy us and save us from sin.”
Accordingly, non-Biblical faith systems are self-centered. For them, true change is initiated from within, and being virtuous is what necessitates faith. In such worldviews if you demonstrate and exemplify enough devotedness and if you do enough good you will warrant enough faith for you to become a better version of yourself who will somehow make it to the other side on your own merits.
The problem is that such approaches, mindsets and lifestyles only serve to wear people out. Nevertheless, works and virtue based salvation is certainly appealing.
They play into our desire to control our own destinies. They appeal to our pride by focusing the aim of everything on what we achieve. Lastly, they quench our thirst for autonomy since such systems make us our own objective standard for living, instead of God.“Instead of attaining salvation through our own futile efforts, Jesus tells us to accept what he has already done for us.”
But at the end of the day, works based attempts at salvation always fail to satisfy us and save us from sin. No matter how much we do to atone for our sins, it can never be enough because we have no power to rescue ourselves, nor can we determine what amount of good will get us to heaven.
The power to redeem only comes from God. (Acts 4:12) This ought to cause us to take a second glance at the world’s “virtue first, faith second” narrative.
Contrary to man’s ideas, Jesus teaches that faith comes before true virtue and that we are to add virtue to our faith. Therefore, according to Biblical Christianity, you cannot be truly virtuous without first having faith in Christ alone as your savior from sin. (Eph. 2:8-9, Jn. 1:12-13, Jn. 15:5)
Faith is the foundation upon which everything else in life – including virtue – stems since we cannot produce truly good works in the absence of Jesus working in us, and we cannot have God’s Spirit working in us unless we have been saved by faith in Jesus’ death on the cross. (2 Cor. 3:18, 1 Pet. 1:2)
Instead of attaining salvation through our own futile efforts, Jesus tells us to accept what he has already done for us – becoming our substitute for sin on the cross so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor. 5:21)
Virtue then comes after we come to Jesus in faith and ask him to save us. From that point on God works in us to produce virtue and he adds virtuous works to what he has already done for us.
Therefore, works add to the Christian’s faith. Again, though faith is all that is needed to be a child of God, virtuous works complement and perfect the believer’s faith because they are evidences of God’s working within. (Jas. 2:22, Jn. 15:5)
In fact, the Greek root of the word “add” in Peter’s verse means to supply further, and to furnish. Think of it like this. Faith is the house – the foundation – and virtue is its décor. No one sets out a bunch of homegoods in the middle of a field and then builds a house around them. No, the house is built first and then furnished after. That’s how faith and virtue work.“Virtue adorns our faith with God’s attributes and fruits.”
For the Christian virtue proves our growth and provides for our faith just as a man provides for his wife. Virtue furnishes the Christian’s life with God’s fruits and attributes – making him or her more like Jesus. Virtue adorns our faith with God’s attributes and fruits. (Gal. 5:22-23)
A warm smile, an honest disposition, good deeds and selfless love; these are not merely good works, they are examples of God in us. Just like the fine China, the rich plush couch and the priceless work of art that bring out the best in the home, good works and virtue bring out God in us.
Truly, God is the all powerful craftsman who takes our ramshackle lives and builds us up into mansions of his glory. (Col. 2:7) Without him we can do nothing. (Jn. 15:5)
May we be supremely thankful when God endows us with his fruits and helps us grow. May we rest in the joy that resides in a saved life that is furnished with God’s virtues.
Soli Deo gloria!
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Only a Rose by Faye Tambrino. The Greater Heritage Art Gallery.