During the Passion Week before Jesus would be put to death, He was overwhelmed with emotion and, perhaps, even depression. When visitors sought Him out, He preferred seclusion, mulling over the dark thoughts of His few remaining days (Jn 12:20-26). He hid from the crowds to have some silence (Jn 12:36). He wished that He could avoid the plan for His final days, but remained faithful (Jn 12:27).
And in the midst of this powerful, painful suffering, Jesus made a bold statement: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25).
That verse scares me. Because the thing is: I do love my life. I have a job that I enjoy. I attend a church full of nice people where I am challenged spiritually. I live in a nice home. I have an amazing wife and two adorable children. I am not wealthy, but I do have financial security. I love this life. I feel blessed by God that I get to live it.
Am I then, in danger, of losing the larger life—the spiritual life—of my future?
Sure, of course, I can quote you chapter-and-verse through the opposing arguments: that we are saved by grace through faith, and not of works; that poverty does not equal godliness; that I give generously, and all of that. That it is the love of money that Jesus called the root of all evil, not money itself.
But the simple fact is: I just don’t like what Jesus said here. I do not like it.
You see, I do not want to lose this life in order to gain Jesus. I want both. I do not find that I want “Jesus instead of…”. No, I want, “Jesus AND…”. And so, from my nice comfortable chair in my nice air-conditioned house on my nice work-provided laptop, I sit here and wonder: am I unfruitful? Am I a worthless servant? Do I live too safely, risk too rarely, love too poorly, to ever please God?
I do firmly believe that, based upon the promises given to us regarding faith, that I will have eternal life. But will I hear—as all Christians desire—God call me a “good and faithful servant?” Am I bringing Him pleasure with my life?
If, like me, you find yourself frequently worrying about how to avoid unfruitfulness, I would point you to the book of 2 Peter. In it, Peter addresses this very topic, saying,
“Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 1:5-8, ESV)
So, Peter says, if you possess these qualities and they are increasing, you are assured that you will not be unfruitful. So it is toward these qualities that I am now planning on focusing my energies:
• Faith (pistis): the belief in Christianity;
• Virtue (arete): moral high quality or excellence in a person;
• Knowledge (gnosis): knowledge about our faith;
• Self-control (egkrateia): the ability to master your temptations, especially sensual ones;
• Steadfastness (hypomone): consistency of purpose, being unable to be swayed from the faith;
• Godliness (eusebeia): reverence and respect toward God;
• Brotherly affection (philadelphia): love of brothers and sisters, and the cherishing of other Christians as one’s own family; and
• Love (agape): self-sacrifical love.
The truth—as it so often is with God—is simultaneously more terrifying and more comforting than the theologies we tend to make up. Whether you are a missionary or a factory worker, your fruitfulness before God is based on the same thing: it is the foundation of who you are in Christ, not what you do for Him, that determines your fruitfulness in life.
Peter says that remembering to increase in these qualities is the most important thing he can think of as he nears the end of his life (2 Pet 1:12-15). Because if you have the foundation of faith, and you build a house from these qualities (virtue, knowledge, self-control, etc. …) then you cannot help but have the appropriate works that God has prepared for you to engage in.
Now, some of you are relieved, thinking that I am letting you off the hook—after all, I did not argue that you needed to move to a hut in Africa to be a fruitful servant, just that you needed to make some self-improvements. That’s definitely better than what I could have said, right?
Don’t get too excited. Really look at that list.
Since becoming a Christian, do you live a godlier/cleaner life than you used to? Have you learned more about Christianity? Have you begun to master your temptations? Have you become consistent in your faith (quiet times, prayer life, etc.)? Are you reverent toward God? Are you kind and loving toward your family and Christian family? Do you sacrificially love other people, giving of your time/talent/treasure to help those who cannot help themselves? And, if you have all of those things…are they still increasing in you?
The point that Peter is making is to focus on who you are, more than what you do. If you focus your energy on developing these abilities—which God has already given you, and you simply need to “work out” the muscles to make them strong—then you will naturally produce the fruit you were supposed to produce.
So there is your focus. Do not focus on what you do, but upon your relationship to God, particularly in those key areas. Your behavior will take care of itself, as a result.
And then, Peter says, you need no longer fear being called unfruitful.