3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 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. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,[a] make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In July of 1961 the 38 members of the Green Bay Packers were gathered together for the first day of training camp. Their previous season was disappointing. They had ended with a defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFL Championship.
That morning, their new coach, Vince Lombardi, strode into the locker room. In his hand he held a football. Suddenly he declared, “Gentlemen, this is a football!”
He stood before thirty-eight pro athletes who had just come inches from being the NFL champions, yet he started by introducing them to a football. Of course they knew what a football was!
But this was Lombardi’s method--to go back to the basics and review the fundamentals of the game—blocking, tackling, passing, kicking, and so on. Throughout practice and on through the season, he continued obsessively to have the practice and drill the basics. Whenever they had a bad practice or lost a game, he would always begin the same way “Gentlemen, this is a football!” Let everyone else worry about fancy plays and tricky gambits, he was determined that his team would be the best team in the league on the stuff that everyone else took for granted. Six months later, they beat the New York Giants 37-0 to win the NFL Championship. They went on to win the next three championships in a row, and five of the next seven. The Packers became legendary, and Lombardi earned recognition as the best professional football coach of all time.
Lombardi’s method was the same as winning coaches in all sports. It has proven over the years to be the key to greatness. Focus on the fundamentals. It’s not the big ideas, big choices, and big plans which matter, but the small choices and daily habits. It’s not complicated ideas, but the basics deeply understood and practiced until they make the difference.
What’s true in sports is also true in your spiritual life. Christian living is a struggle, a kind of competition. But it is not a competition between each other. It doesn’t matter whether or not our church is more successful than others, or whether we are holier than thou. Looking at this as a competition between people does more harm than good.
No, our competition is against Satan and with our own sinful flesh. It is as serious a competition as any ball game, political campaign, or battle ever was. Paul says in Ephesians 612,
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
In this struggle, we must grasp the fundamentals. They are what Paul calls the “Armor of God.” The people who most succeed in reflecting Christ are those who have the best grasp of the fundamentals, and who have trained and practiced in them. The people who practice Christian doctrine, prayer, Bible study, and personal interaction are the ones who understand grace, love, and forgiveness. Those who best reflect Jesus are those who have trained themselves in Bible study and quiet times of prayer, who know how to worship and who can witness for Christ in the world. They know what to do, and have practiced what to do.
To live like Jesus is the object of our Christian life. To do this, we must defeat the Devil and our own flesh. Peter describes what that victory looks like in verses 5-7,
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.
A Christian should have faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. It’s interesting that this is not just a list, rather he lists each one of these as coming out of the other. Knowledge grows out of faith; self-control out of knowledge; perseverance out of self-control, and so forth. Having these traits are the product of something much more fundamental and basic. If we have all these things, then we can still lose the battle if we don’t have the foundations correct.
Love is good, but love without grounding in the fundamentals can produce evil results. It’s not just love that changes the world, but its love that grows out of godliness which grows out of mutual affection, which grows out of perseverance, which grows out of self-control, which eventually grows out of faith. Where it all begins makes a difference.
So where does it start? What’s the “football?” Peter tells us in verses 8 and 9,
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.
It begins with being cleansed from sin. We call that grace—God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. If we start anywhere else, we will get in trouble. Without grace, we will be unproductive and unfruitful, but with grace, we may make many mistakes, but will ultimately come out at the right place.
The great theologian Karl Barth once took a trip to the United States. A reporter asked him what the most profound lesson he had learned in his decades of writing and study was. His answer was immediate, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
The basic teaching of the Christian faith is like that. God became a man, and died for our sins. Our sins are taken away from us, because Jesus paid the price on the cross for them. If God ever spoke to people, it would have be so simple that everyone could understand it, and so profound that you could study it all your life and never reach the bottom of it. The doctrine of God’s forgiveness through Jesus is all that. It’s simple and profound at the same time.
Christianity is far, far more than a religion. It is a profound historical fact—that God became man and died for us. For that reason those who believe in Him will have everlasting life.
Christianity is simple to grasp, and simple to understand. Here is the basics in a nutshell.
First, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for you.
John 10:10: “I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Romans 5:8: “God commended His love to us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Second, Sin has separated us from God.
Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of God’s Glory. “
Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.”
Third, Jesus paid the price for all our sins on the Cross.
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Fourth, we must individually accept this gift, and make and look to Jesus as our leader and rescuer.
Ephesians 2: 8-9: “For it is by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God, not from you, so no one can boast about it.”
All we have to do is ask that our sins are forgiven, and Christ will cleanse us.
From that time on, we enter a new relationship with God. That relationship is not based on our being good, but on Christ’s goodness to us. It is His work, not ours, that sanctifies us. It doesn’t matter what you have done, or what you will ever do, but what Christ has done for you. This is the fundamental truth of the faith.
Next week, we will continue talking about fundamentals—the most basic things about being a Christian. Before we do anything else, we have to get the fundamentals correct.
This is our “football”—the reality of God’s grace. Without it, we will never succeed. But when we fully grasp the power of His love, Jesus will work inside us to grow us into His image.