“and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness….” (2 Peter 1:6, NASB95)
Panic is an unnerving thing. It is that sudden sense of things being out of control in the face of a pending threat, whether that threat is real of not. Panic leads to questions of what to do. It often leads to uninformed and even unwise responses. And, the reality is that we are all prone to it in varying times, varying ways, and to varying degrees. At its core for those of us who are in Christ, panic is the tendency to take our eyes off of God in the face of a situation and look to the size of the threat and not the size of our God and His faithfulness.
Chief Engineer James Montgomery Scott (Scotty) was charged with keeping the Star Trek vessel the Enterprise “together” through all of its various missions. In one of his later roles Commander Kirk told Scotty, “keep this thing together till I come back” to which Scotty replied, “I always do.” “Self-control” can best be described as holding oneself together or holding oneself in. It is the idea of showing self-restraint or self-discipline. A self-controlled person is one who is measured and who does not fly off the handle when provoked. He is one who does not flee or panic at the sign of conflict or trouble. He doesn’t become unnerved when things could easily be perceived as unnerving.
In Galatians 5:23 this same word is used in the list of things which the Spirit works in believers as fruit of growth. In Christ, we exercise self-control as a fruit of growth such that we become less easily shaken or led to doubt. In relation to the reality of Christ’s return, Paul wrote, “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1–2, NASB95) What Paul is describing here is not losing self-control because someone tries to plant a doubt, but trusting in the true hope declared in the word of God. Paul wrote so that they might know the truth, and knowing the truth that they might stand firmly in it, not being easily or quickly shaken and losing composure.
Self-control means that we stay focused and on task, and it applies to every area of our lives. The apostle Paul wrote, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:25–27, NASB95) I watched the Tour de France again this year, and I was amazed at the total life discipline that the cyclists had to apply to the entirety of their lives to cross the line at the finish twenty-one stages later. But as I reflect on that, I also look to myself and realize how easy it is to lose sight of how all of this works together in my own life and how I am tempted at times to avoid enduring one of the stages or trials. We are not running a sprint that will quickly end, but a marathon that continues until either Christ takes us home or He returns. It is for that reason that in our self-control we are also to apply perseverance. Perseverance is needed when things last, and I think it safe to say that every single one of us has faced things that we would rather not face that have lasted much longer than we had hoped they would. We probably can all even point to series of things that have seemed to pile up and pile on and have seemed somewhat overwhelming. We read that we are in these times to be self-controlled for the long haul.
It is this patient waiting and standing fast that really grows us as Christians. One of my favorite passages, not because it gives me warm fuzzies, but because it encourages me when I don’t feel like it to keep going with hope is James 1:2-4. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, NASB95) Notice the attitude that is to accompany the waiting? It is joy. It is not the warm fuzzy happiness thing that the world seeks, but a deep-seated joy in knowing that our God is real and that He is faithful to finish in us the work that He started. He will not give up on us and we can have great hope in trusting Him. We are to actively think on who He is and what He has promised when the temptation to panic comes. We are all going to encounter trials. We will likely encounter lots and lots of them in all shapes and sizes, but these trials are not to shake us from our foundation. Though our faith is tested, we can stand knowing that the giver of our faith is untested. As we trust Him and see Him faithful to bring us through, we continue to grow more and more in our trust of Him. We learn to endure knowing that He is in control, and as we endure and endure He does the work of perfecting and completing us or growing us more and more into the image of His Son who endured so much for us. Endurance is not fun, but it definitely is a necessary part of God’s plan, and we do this as we diligently apply self-control over and over again by faith in our unfailing God.
As James said, the end result of this is our maturity or completion. The fruit of endurance is godliness. As we look diligently to God, trust in Him, rely on Him, and stand with Him He does the incredible work of growing us up and making us more and more like His Son. We can never be any more saved. Christ accomplished this for us on the cross. We can never be any more righteous. It is Christ’s righteousness that has been put upon us to make us acceptable to God. But we all can grow up in how we walk before Him, and this process of enduring self-control toward godliness is the one which God chooses to use to accomplish that very thing. This is what godliness is about. It is looking more like God in how we live as a response to our looking to Him and trusting Him for all that we are.