Have you seen the computer software that enables the user to design a garden in 3-D? For you who thrive on gardening, imagine designing your potential garden’s location, the contour of its beds, the types of plants to include, and their arrangement. How cool is that?! But it’s even better when the garden is actually planted and cultivated.
In some ways the process of growing a garden can be likened to cultivating good character qualities. We could call such spiritual growth a “garden of virtues.” The apostle Peter lists eight of them in his second letter. He wrote,
“[God’s] divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love“ (2 Peter 1:3-7, italics added).
God’s Role and Ours
First, notice the sufficiency of God’s provision for the believer. He has given us (when we were born again) “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” This an ongoing provision, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). We are not left to try to manufacture good character; it is a by-product of abiding in Christ (John 15:1-8).
Although we have this endowment from the Father, we are still summoned to “add” certain qualities to our lives. The gardener is responsible to facilitate the growth of his plants, but their life and growth is from the Creator. God has provided seed, soil, air, sun, and water. The gardener’s role is to facilitate this process. Likewise, although we derive these good virtues from God’s gracious presence within, we are to be: “giving all diligence. . .”; We are to participate in the process of cultivating the garden of virtues.
Let’s take a closer look at these eight qualities.
FAITH is the virtue of believing the evidence for what is not physically seen, but what God has promised (Heb. 11:1,6).
VIRTUE is the quality of moral excellence, including righteousness and goodness (Gal. 5:22,23).
KNOWLEDGE is the virtue of a personal awareness and understanding of God’s person, works, and revealed will (Prov. 2:3-5; Col. 1:10; 2 Pet. 3:18).
SELF-CONTROL is the virtue of governing one’s thoughts, choices, and physical desires by one’s spirit–empowered by God’s Spirit (Prov. 25:28; Rom. 6:12).
PERSEVERANCE is the virtue of steady persistence in adhering to one’s commitment to Christ’s mission and message (Rom. 5:3; James 1:4; 5:7).
GODLINESS is the virtue of expressing reverence for God by personal devotion and Christ-like character (1 Tim 2:1,2; 4:7).
BROTHERLY KINDNESS is the virtue of genuine affection and love toward others as befitting kinship in the family of God (Rom. 12:10; Col. 3:12).
LOVE is the virtue of compassionately treating others according to the value God has placed upon them (John 13:34,35).
The Lord Jesus illustrated the dynamic of Christian living with the metaphor of the vine. He is the true vine, the Father is the vine dresser, we (as believers) are the branches, and the fruit is the evidence of His indwelling life.
To bear this fruit the disciple must abide in Christ (John 15:4). What does this mean? Frederic Godet defined it this way: “‘To abide in me [Christ]’ expresses the continual act by which the Christian sets aside everything which he might derive from his own wisdom, strength, merit, to draw all from Christ.”
Just as a cultivated flower bed is more lush than an uncultivated one, the believer who intentionally values, prays, and decides for these virtues will see God’s grace revealed in these ways. And we need to “pull weeds” like pride, bitterness, and self-sufficiency.
Jerry Bridges speaks of balancing our perspective of discipleship:
“One day we sense our personal responsibility and seek to live a godly life by the strength of our own willpower. The next day, realizing the futility of trusting in ourselves, we turn it all over to Christ and abdicate our responsibility which is set forth in the Scriptures. We need to learn that the Bible teaches both total responsibility and total dependence in all aspects of the Christian life.”
Someone cautioned, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”
We facilitate positive thoughts and deeds by affirming our identity in Christ which is based upon grace alone. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
Your identity in Christ should positively influence your character and conduct. This growth in character is more than a visual plan; it is an evidence of Christ living His life in and though you, developing your “garden of virtues.”
 This John 15:1-8 illustration shifts the role of gardener to the God the Father, in order to emphasize the dynamic source of the Christian’s virtues.
 Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Godliness
Character quality definitions are based on dictionary meanings and biblical usage. An inductive Bible study such as this steers us between the extremes of legalism and license, between self-effort and passivity.
Suggested Resource: The Family Book of Christian Values, by Stuart and Jill Briscoe.
Copyright by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Please credit GraceNotebook.com. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.