It’s a little word with HUGE ramifications. Or at least, it should have.
Whenever Jesus’ followers wrote their letters (e.g. Paul, Peter, John, James, et al), they were written to other Jesus followers. That’s important to keep in mind. Knowing that the audience was already on board can really change how we read their letters. It becomes obvious that the earliest believers needed additional instruction on things like baptism, marriage, worship, Christology, etc. I think this means that you don’t have to know everything before you can know Jesus. All this other stuff seems, indeed, secondary to the life, ministry, and redemptive power of Jesus Christ.
That being said, faith is always assumed, at least at some level. But even faith itself has to be explained more in depth (see Galatians 3-5 and James 2:14ff). This also seems to be the case with 2 Peter. Faith is assumed and indeed present, but it’s an incomplete faith, lacking in something. It seems that the faith Peter is addressing is a simple, basic belief in Jesus and the power of God. In 1:3-4 he begins by reminding them that they have everything they need for life and godliness and that they have an opportunity to participate in the very divine nature of God. So what are you waiting for?!
Peter says, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness…” (2 Peter 1:5)
How many “good people” do you know? Now how many of those people have no faith?
Someone shared this church sign on Facebook earlier today:
While I don’t necessarily agree with the theology, I can appreciate the sentiment. It was my experience as I was growing up that those who were not Christians were often more open, friendlier, and more forgiving/understanding than those who claimed to follow Christ.
And that experience is not unique to me. In the book UnChristian, the authors poll non-believers about their attitudes toward Christians. Most descriptors were negative – hypocritical, judgmental, homophobic, rigid, narrow minded, etc.
I think our great pitfall is a misunderstanding of what it means to be good. We often think that to be a “good Christian” means going to church, singing the songs, reading our Bibles, and never smoking, drinking, cussing, or having sex. But what does the New Testament actually say about being “good?”
First of all, goodness is a characteristic of God himself.
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” (Mark 10:17-18)
If goodness is a trait that belongs first and foremost to God himself, then I daresay that “being good” has little to do with church-y stuff. It probably has more to do with people stuff – love, self-sacrifice, compassion, etc. To be good is to strive to attain the character of God for our own.
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
Second, there seems to be a difference between righteousness and goodness.
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. (Romans 5:7)
If I’m a car salesman and I sell you a car for the sticker price, which is a fair price, then I could be considered righteous. But if I knock $5000 off the price with free maintenance for the lifetime of the car so that a single mother can have a way to get her kids to school and herself to work, then I might be considered a good man.
I think we confuse righteousness and goodness. Yes, we are declared “righteous” before God when we rise from the waters of baptism, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are striving to embrace the character of God in our own lives. Righteousness turns us in the direction of God. Goodness takes us closer to Him.
Make every effort to add to your faith goodness. The church needs more good people.