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The new school year has begun. It marks a time to gain and foster knowledge and learning. What I am reminded of is that Christians are encouraged to grow in knowledge. Consider 2 Peter 1, for example.
May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is nearsighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you. (vv 2-11 NRSV, emphasis added)
The recurring use of “knowledge” in most instances is “epignōsis“, a knowledge of transcendent or moral matters and in this case a reference to knowledge of God or Jesus. In the Petrine building blocks of faith, the word is “gnōsis“, the broader term for “knowledge” in its variety.
Through knowledge of God and Jesus comes power for life and moral excellence. It is by this power that one can live a socially meritorious life. It empowers character of the highest order. Because of that power and ability, it is incumbent upon Christians to grow in their faith, taking particular building blocks to be fruitful and effective in that knowledge of Jesus. These blocks are:
- Goodness (“aretē“): morally, socially excellent character
- Knowledge (“gnōsis”): variety of knowledge
- Self-Control (“enkrateia“): restraint of impulses, emotions, or desires, especially in matters of sex (i.e., chastity)
- Endurance (“hypomonē“): patience; perseverance; steadfastness; the ability to hold up in the face of difficulty
- Godliness (“eusebia“): fear of God; loyalty; piety.
- Mutual affection (“philadelphia“): brotherly or sisterly love; affection
- Love (“agapē“): warm regard for; high esteem for.
Each one builds on the other:
- Goodness comes as a result of faith
- Knowledge comes as a result of goodness
- Self-control comes as a result of knowledge
- Endurance comes as a result of self-control
- Godliness comes as a result of endurance
- Mutual affection comes as a result of godliness
- Love comes as a result of mutual affection.
Note verse 8: “For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, . . .” These building blocks of faith must be there, but that alone is not enough as they must also be increasing, that is, growing. Christians are expected to grow in goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love, and, in so doing, collectively all of those faith-growing building blocks will help them be effective and fruitful in the knowledge of Jesus because they remind them of their spiritual cleansing from their sins, which helps them to confirm their calling as Christians and, as a result, never stumble. Wow, that’s a lot to take in there! Let’s break it down further:
- Ineffective (“argos“): unproductive
- Unfruitful (“akarpos“): useless (used of people who do no good deeds)
- Stumble (“ptaiō“): trip, be ruined.
Power through knowledge yields good works. Faith and works. It’s reminiscent of James 1:26 where it says that faith without works is dead. Christians aren’t to be dead! They are to be growing! Which means that Christians are to be productive with their works! By doing good deeds and adding to their knowledge and faith, they can avoid tripping up and being ruined. Realize the strength in this saying: “for if you do this, you will never stumble” (ou mē ptaisēte pote). It is classic ou + mē + subjunctive construction in Greek. Add in a solid “ever” to further reinforce the gravity of the situation, and you’ve got an extremely limiting, “you will never be ruined”.
So, knowledge is a critical component for Christians. We don’t simply check our brains at the door! We must learn and grow, not just about God and Jesus but about all things. We need to grow in our knowledge of good deeds as well so that we can know as well as do, including, but not limited to, showing self-restraint, being patient, being loyal to God, having affection for fellow Christians, and holding others in high esteem.
In fact, this list is not all that unfamiliar. Consider Paul’s fruit of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). Notice the overlap between the Pauline fruit of the spirit and the Petrine building blocks of faith. First, there is the obvious, both love and self-control. We could add patience as well, hypomonē in 2 Peter 1 but makrothymia in Galatians. The former is the ability to bear up under difficulty while the latter is the ability to bear up against provocation, a more nuanced subset of the former. We might even add faithfulness, one in the sense of being faithful, pistis, while the other being loyal to God, eusebia, similar in semantic range but not the same word or focus. In either case, knowledge of God and the presence of the Spirit within both encourage, lead, and demand the Christian to live out good works. Sole fide? No, faith and knowledge yield works—a way of living that is socially, morally excellent.