Set Our Feet on His Path

For this very reason, 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. 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 1:5-11)

There are things in life that get easier, the longer that you do them. You develop skills and strengths which make moving ahead easier than it was at the beginning. In the case of employment, it really needs to work that way, so that you can increase your value over time. If your employer can get more from you, they can justify paying you more. If you stop increasing your ability to do your job, whether by laziness or just because of some natural limit you have, your employment might come into question.

Other things in life become harder, the longer you do them. Running a race is one of those things, because it is a battle of attrition. The longer you do it, the more tired you become. Some pursuits require demands that are ongoing, and in those cases, it is by sheer will (and maybe a cup of water now and again) that we are able to keep up the pace.

The Christian life is portrayed as the latter, in scripture. Peter talks about making "every effort" to add to the foundation of the Christian life, which is our faith in Christ. It's like a series of steps up a ladder, or a sharp incline in a trek up a steep mountain, each one a little harder than the last. Once you trust in Christ, you need "goodness," which means making every effort to do the right thing. Then you must make every effort to learn more about who God is and what it means to follow Christ, which is "knowledge." Then apply effort to control your impulses, which is "self-control." Then learn how to persevere, which is the ability to not give in when your convictions are challenged. Then make the effort to live out a life of godliness, which is much harder than simply doing the right thing. And from there, the hardest of all -- caring for and attending to the needs of other people, which is "mutual affection," and at the pinnacle of the Christian life, showing other people love, which always involves true selflessness and self-sacrifice. We know it's the pinnacle and most difficult thing because it's typified by what Jesus did for all of us on the cross, to set our feet on his path.

The most important thing about the procession that Peter outlines, I think, is the idea that all of this requires effort. Parts of the journey do get easier, the longer you do them, but they are never easy. There are always things slowing us, dragging us down, distracting us from the next step in the process. In a foot race, there is often a clearly marked path that is cordoned off from crowds and street traffic. It's not always like that in the Christian life; I feel like I'm running my race in the middle of a crowded and noisy shopping mall on Black Friday, trying to make forward progress but still balancing the load of other obligations while other people slam into me, some intentionally. It is tempting to retreat to a Christian social bubble where there are few distractions, but most of us don't have that option. We work and live in a secular world.

The fact that it's hard is no excuse, though. If I can't add godliness to my faith, or perseverance, or any of these other things, then it's only because I am not making the effort. When I don't make the effort, I get drawn back the way I came, or stumble down a side path that is a lot easier but takes me farther from the goal. It means, as Peter says, that I am nearsighted and blind, forgetting that I am cleansed from my past sins. If I don't remember why I am on the journey in the first place, and focus too much on the distractions instead of the finishing line, I am just nearsighted.

Peter refers to these qualities as confirming our calling and election. These are theological terms that mean outwardly demonstrating, both to ourselves and others, that God has chosen us (that's our "election") and has put us on this path of living for him (that's our "calling"). It takes effort -- he uses that same term again. And if we do make the effort, or rather, to the degree we make the effort, we won't stumble -- we will stay on track. And we will reach the goal, which is eternity with our Lord.

At times, I am nearsighted and blind, and I take a wrong turn. All I can do is shake it off, put my feet back on the path, and press ahead. It's not always as easy as it sounds, but that's the only way to reach the finish line. At the end, there is victory, and afterward, plenty of time to rest. The distractions will be gone. A cup of cold water awaits. And one, who will be holding it for me.

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