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Skills for Developing Virtue
Romans 5:2-5; 2 Peter 1:3-8
Romans Lesson #055
March 29, 2012
2 Peter 1, specifically verses 5-8, present a similar list of virtues to those that are spelled out in Romans 5. In Romans 5:2 “Through whom [Christ] also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand…” This phrase “in which we stand” focuses on the present reality of a justified believer. Chapter 5 is really a transition from talking about justification, which is laid out at the end of chapter 3 and 4, to the spiritual life for how a justified believer grows and matures in grace and by means of grace. This is foreshadowed in this stair step.
adversity ----> endurance ----> tested, approved character ----> confidence (hope)
(THLIPSIS) (HUPOMONE) (DOKIME) (ELPIS)
The other kinds of virtue ladders that we find in other passages of Scripture are all firmly located in sanctification-focused passages. Paul is sort of introducing here some of the key ideas that will come back to dominate what he says about the spiritual life in Romans 6, 7, and 8.
Romans 5:2 “… and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” This hope is a forward-looking confidence, a certainty and not a wishy-washy expectation or wishful optimism, a certain confidence in the future. It is becoming more significant as I read this now and other passages that the phrase “glory of God” was often used as a sort of summation of all of God’s character. We see that in passages like Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We would expect maybe righteousness of God or the justice of God, but we have the glory of God because that is a term that summarizes all of God’s character, all of His attributes. We fall short of that.
Last time and the time before, I talked about defining virtue, not on the basis of the human viewpoint tradition of Greco-Roman thought but on the biblical usage of the terminology as it was rarely used in the Old Testament only on 3 or 4 occasions. For example, only in Isaiah and a couple of other places was the term virtue used in the Greek translation. The rabbis who translated from the Hebrew text did not see virtue in a Greco-Roman sense as being equivalent to the moral concept in the Scripture. Where you do find ARETE used is when it is proclaiming the excellences of God’s character. The term virtue in the Old Testament was understood to be related to the sum total of God’s character and not an abstract or autonomous concept of moral excellence, which is what you have coming out of both Greek and Roman philosophy and culture.
For the Jews, it was something that was grounded objectively in the character of God, so when we get into the New Testament, we have to continue to follow this principle that the primary frame of reference for New Testament vocabulary is not 5th century Greece or 4th century Rome; it is the Old Testament. That is what formed the frame of reference for the apostles and the early Christians who were mostly Jewish and not a Greco-Roman pagan culture.
We can paraphrase it that Paul says that we rejoice in this confidence in relation to the character of God. Romans 5:3-4 “And not only that, but we also glory [rejoice] in tribulations [adversities], knowing that tribulation produces perseverance [endurance]; and perseverance, character; and character, hope [confidence].” That is our stair step. It is a figure of speech or a way of developing a logical flow called sorites, which is one thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another.
I pointed it out this way by thinking through basic steps or stages in spiritual growth. There are three major passages (some minor passages) that we have looked at that approach the Christian life in terms of expressing certain virtue or character qualities that are part of a progression of spiritual growth.
adversity ----> endurance ----> tested, approved character ----> confidence (hope)
(THLIPSIS) (HUPOMONE) (DOKIME) (ELPIS)
We learn to deal with adversity, we endure, we are tested or evaluated, and then character is developed. That is a key concept that God is producing a specific character in us. The process of this development leads to hope.
trial ---------> testing ------> endurance ----> perfect work maturation
(PEIRASMOS) (DOKIMION) (HUPOMONE) (TELEIOS)
James 1:3–4 “Because you know that the testing of your faith produces patience [endurance]. But let patience have its perfect [maturing] work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” We see that James looks at it a little differently than Romans, some similar verbiage and qualities, but they do not have to be identical. Too often we try to make each of these elements relate to another, as if God is laying out some rigid blueprint. It is not rigid; it is dynamic. There are a lot of different elements that are part of it, and each writer is going to emphasize different aspects of the maturation process depending on what he is focusing on in terms of his specific, distinct audience.
James is talking about a trial, so there is similarity there between the adversity where Paul starts in Romans 5:3 and the trials of James 1:2. Then there is testing, and there is the noun DOKIMION, which is similar to the adjective DOKIME for “tested, approved character” in Romans 5:4. But both also emphasize endurance, which is a commonality. It is that development of endurance, stick-to-itiveness in a spiritual sense, hanging with it, and not fading out because of distractions in life or thinking you have arrived.
I am amazed how many Christians think they have arrived when they have maybe gotten to first base and are acting as if they have hit home plate. They just do not have this stick-to-itiveness to hang in there over a period of 4, 5, or 6 decades.
James emphasizes the trial leads to testing, then developing character leading to endurance, which leads to maturity. These are called virtue lists. The opposite of a virtue is a vice. There is this contrast we often find in these lists, specifically Galatians 5:19-23, where you have the works of the flesh contrasted with the fruit of the Spirit.
We looked at 2 Peter 1:3–4 where it lays the groundwork in Peter’s thinking that it is God’s power, the totality of His character as seen in His omnipotence that provides for us everything related to life and godliness. I emphasized that the term godliness, EUSEBIA, is a word that emphasizes a loyalty toward God. It is not just living a life that imitates God or reflects His character, but it is grounded on a faithful devotion and loyalty to God. It comes through knowledge (EPIGNOSIS).
I want to talk about the word interchange between these two forms of the word knowledge. Sometimes we have the word GNOSIS, which is the basic root noun for knowledge, and other times, it is intensified with a prefix EPIGNOSIS. EPIGNOSIS emphasizes a fuller, more experiential or usable knowledge; whereas, gnosis emphasizes knowledge itself. The way we all use language is we sometimes use a word that reflects a part for the whole, and sometimes we use a word for the whole for the part that includes more than just the sum of the parts. There are those who say you have drawn too tight a distinction between EPIGNOSIS and GNOSIS. Maybe in some cases that is true, but when the writer uses these terms, he is choosing one over against another.
We believe in verbal, plenary inspiration and that every word is ultimately chosen and selected by God the Holy Spirit not just for stylistic reasons but because He is emphasizing something even between synonyms. If you have, for example, AGAPE (word for love) and PHILOS (another word for love) in the same passage, and they are translated in English as love, there is a reason that the writers of Scripture chose to use one over the other. There is something they are emphasizing, and they are not just choosing them for some stylistic variation.
In this introduction in 2 Peter 1:3, we are told that all of this is given to us “through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.” That relates to His character, so virtue again is used in relation to the character of God, His glory.
2 Peter 1:4 “By which [on the basis of or by means of His character] have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises …” Promises focuses on content, and by virtue of having these promises (specific content-oriented statements in Scripture that we can take to the bank as a firm commitment from God) that we may by following and implementing those promises partake of the divine nature. Again we get this idea that it is God’s character that we are able to display that is developed in our lives as a result of the implementation and application of those promises. We can be participants and develop the character of God within us. It is by doing this that we escape “the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
I emphasized this word corruption because it indicates something that is in decay, something that is dead and rotting. That is the world system—dead, rotting and nothing attractive about it. Satan tries to put makeup on something that is dead and rotten to make it attractive and appealing to us, but the end result is going to be destroyed, and there is nothing there that is really of value.
The way in which we escape that is by developing this character that God is developing in us, so we need to understand what are the mechanics, what is the way in which God does this, and what are the elements of that character. All of this is to lead up to understand this virtue ladder that is developed in 2 Peter 1:5–7, where Peter writes “But also for this reason [because God has given this to us so that we can escape the corruption that is in the world], 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.” You see there is a progression—you add one to the other. There is a development from one stage to another; one quality builds upon a previous quality.
The list for 2 Peter starts with faith, to that one add virtue, and to that knowledge, which is gnosis and not EPIGNOSIS. We might ask the question why is the emphasis on gnosis? That is because you have to learn the facts and the information in Scripture before it can be usable information. gnosis is not contrasted to EPIGNOSIS; it is just the first stage in development of going from knowledge to a full, usable application knowledge. We have to learn it first before it becomes usable and applicable.
Then we develop self-mastery, then endurance, then godliness which is that loyal, faithful obedience to God, then brotherly kindness or brotherly love for one another, and then ultimately love (AGAPE) which is the ultimate in this list.
Romans 5:3-4 James 1:2-4 2 Peter 1:5-8
There are some differences in the lists, but in the middle is this word endurance (HUPOMONE) that we need to hang in there and develop that consistency, that stick-to-itiveness in the Christian life.
The first character quality is faith. There is a distinction between faith as a noun describing an act of believing and the word faith referring to what is believed. For example, in Hebrews 11 it talks about “by faith” and then there are various Old Testament heroes that are cited for the way in which they trusted in God. It not only has the idea of the act of trusting God, but also on the basis or by means of what they believed to be true, they acted consistent with what they believed to be true. They did something with the faith. It was not just something internal, subjective, and was theirs and they kept quiet; it led to action. This is a distinctively Old Testament idea that the virtues that are developed in the spiritual life are not just some sort of static, passive mental thing, but they are all to culminate in action that is the result of character transformation.
Peter begins with the statement in 1 Peter 1:5, “giving all diligence.” He uses a Greek word that means to exert all diligence. It is a participial use of the term which indicates means. When this means is emphasized, this is the way in which one element is added to another. You have a growth progression that takes place by being diligent. That is something that engages our volition. The Christian life is not this sort of mystical, passive thing that God just zaps you with.
I pointed this out the other day when we were talking about the filling by means of the Spirit. The Spirit influences us, but He does not make the decision for us to apply doctrine. We do not just say I have confessed my sin, I’m in fellowship, now the Holy Spirit is going to make this hard decision easy for me. He does not work that way; He does not override our volition. He brings to our mind the information that we need, and then it is up to us to implement it and choose to apply that knowledge in the specific situation or circumstance.
We are to be diligent: this is the same word that the KJV translates “Study to show yourself approved unto God …” (2 Timothy 2:15) That word “study” is SPOUDAZO, and it means to be diligent in the study of God’s Word. It has the idea of putting effort into and consciously being diligent about something. It means focusing on your spiritual life and developing spiritually positive growth-producing habits that will lead to spiritual growth.
2 Peter 1:5 “… giving [exerting] all diligence, add to your faith virtue …” This word faith [PISTIS] also can have the idea of faithfulness or reliability when it is in a virtue list like this. It is not just the act of believing; it is faithfulness in applying that which one believes. This is at the very core of spiritual growth - having a firm conviction or belief in a body of doctrine and learning to consistently, faithfully implement that. Faith is the starting point of our spiritual growth. It is an immature concept at this time because you are talking about a spiritual infant. That spiritual baby loves, just as babies love their parents, but it is not a mature kind of love which is what the progression moves toward.
You add to this “virtue.” Virtue is showing the character of God. There is a character transformation that is going on. Virtue, in its biblical usage, is focusing on reflecting as an image bearer of God His character in us.
We are created in God’s image, and that image was corrupted by the fall, but we are told that we are being conformed to the image of Christ, His character. Even though that image has been corrupted and defaced by sin, it can be renewed and it is being renewed in the process of sanctification. Through justification and sanctification, that image is being renewed according to the character of Christ. What God is trying to do with us in terms of our spiritual growth is to make us reflect Christ’s character in us. We are not to look at various Christian personalities or people that we admire to imitate their character, as much as it might be admirable as a Christian, but we are to look to Christ. That is the pattern that God is using; He is conforming us to the image of Christ. A question then comes “How exactly does this take place?” This is the process of spiritual growth. As we move forward, God begins to develop this character in us, and this starts at an early stage.
One of the fun things about looking at a passage like this is to try to fit it together with other things we have learned and studied, so that we come to a more usable understanding of what the Scriptures are teaching. When we go through what Paul says and look at what Peter says and what other passages teach on the development of the Christian life, we see that each writer looks at things a little differently.
When we try to put them all together, that is really what I think is fun. That is what we call systematic theology. We develop what Paul thought about something – that is Pauline theology or, in technical terminology, a biblical theology of Paul. We look at what Peter says – that is the biblical theology of Peter. We look at what John says in the epistles of John, and that is the biblical theology of John. Then we try to synthesize it all and put it all together to get a full picture. That is how God wants us to do this: to think a lot about what he says in Scripture. He does not give us all the answers; He gives us all the data so we are forced to go into the text and massage the text over and over and pull these things together.
In the past, I talked about foundational spiritual skills. Whether we talk about the stress busters or problem solving devices or whatever the terminology is, these are the basic skills that are taught again and again in Scripture that we need to use in order to grow and mature as believers.
The first is confession. Confession is that which gets us recovery from failure. It is not a license to sin, which some legalists want to accuse us of saying because we are not treating sin as something that is inconsequential but that God is not holding that against us. We are saved, our sins are forgiven judicially at the cross and positionally at salvation. On the basis of that, whenever we fail, there is the free grace offer of forgiveness and cleansing by simply admitting to God the sin that we have committed. He wants to forgive us, but it is not done without us recognizing that we have sinned and that we have disobeyed Him. There is a recovery procedure that gets us started in the right track again.
Then the next spiritual skill is walking by the Holy Spirit and being filled by the Holy Spirit. I like walking by the Spirit because it emphasizes that moment by moment dependence and is a little broader term. If you are walking by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit is the one performing the action in filling us with His Word, comparing Ephesians 5:18 with Colossians 3:16. The Holy Spirit is filling us with His Word, stores it in our soul, and brings it to memory when we encounter various situations in life.
We are passive to that. When the Scripture uses the passive command “Be filled by means of the Spirit,” it is emphasizing the actions performed by the Holy Spirit. We are just sort of receiving it and are in a position where that can happen as a result of confessing sin.
But we are to walk by means of the Spirit, that is, actively engaged in dependency upon God the Holy Spirit step by step. It is a lifestyle term. This comes back to a term related to character. Ephesians 5:18 is to be filled by means of the Spirit. Colossians 3:16 is walking by means of the Spirit. This is the foundation. Confession gets us just to a recovery position. You can confess your sins all day long, but it will not move you one inch further in your spiritual growth if you do not walk. It simply gets you turned in the right direction to begin walking by the Spirit. Some people are so dizzy that they almost pass out spiritually because they sin and confess, sin and confess, sin and confess; and they never get off that dime. We all go through that; that is part of spiritual babyhood and learning. Eventually, we hope we manage to spend a second or two in fellowship and walking before we fall down and have to confess again. Maybe after 20 or 30 years, we think we might even get to the point where we do not stumble quite as badly as we have in the past.
These two realities focus on the spiritual life not being something we produce by just going out and deciding that we are going to be moral, we are going to do the right thing, we are going to make the right choices in the right situations, and somehow we are going to pull ourselves up by our ethical bootstraps and please God. The Scripture clearly teaches the Christian life is produced by the Holy Spirit. So what is the basis for that? Those are the next spiritual skills: faith rest drill, grace orientation and doctrinal orientation. They are laid out in the chart in a logical order. Grace orientation comes first because we have to understand at salvation and in the Christian life that everything is by grace. That is part of doctrine.
Somebody who is too detail oriented for their own good might say that grace orientation is part of doctrinal orientation, so how do you make a distinction? You are just emphasizing grace is something that you really have to orient to before you can orient to the rest of doctrine. Grace is foundational. But that is just looking at these three in sort of a logical connection.
The reality is that in the growth process, there is interplay: the three work together in tandem. There is a give and take, and growth is taking place as the three interconnect. In the faith rest drill, what are we doing? We are learning a promise that is part of doctrine; it is not separate from doctrine. We are working on a skill here: learning a doctrine and grabbing hold of it with faith and trusting in it, relying upon God. The promise is true because God is true. It is not the focus on the promise itself but on the God behind it who is always true and faithful.
2 Peter 1:4 “By which [God’s character] have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature…” We need to start learning salvation promises, promises related to forgiveness, and promises dealing with different problems and issues in life. People have problems with depression, anger, laziness, discouragement, lust – how do you start dealing with these? By learning promises in the Scripture and claiming them. It is practiced over and over again like sitting down at the piano and playing scales or running through the fingering or slide procedures on an instrument over and over again until they become so imbedded in muscle memory that it becomes virtually automatic.
That is how you develop skill. You do not develop skill by applying it once every three or four days. You are not going to get good at anything. This is something that you learn to practice over and over again, and eventually that becomes part of you and imbedded as a skill.
The 2nd of these spiritual skills is grace orientation: learning again and again and again that everything in our life is due to God’s grace, and we do not deserve anything that we have. Most of the time if we got what we deserve, we would not even be down under a bridge. I do not know where we would be, but it would not be good. How many times do we make decisions or procrastinate decisions or make bad decisions, and God does not lower the boom on us. Instead, God takes care of us and provides for us and graces us out. We have to learn that principle that we are who we are and have what we have solely by the grace of God and not because we are somebody, but because God has chosen to give these things to us freely.
Peter will conclude at the end of the epistle a command (2 Peter 3:18) to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” That is the 3rd of the spiritual skills: doctrinal orientation, where doctrine is a term that refers to the entire realm of what the Bible teaches. It is not a term that it has come to be used in contemporary language as if it relates to abstract theology. You may not be aware of this, but in theological circles, seminaries and Bible colleges, they make this dichotomy between doctrine and application.
But that is not how the Bible uses the word doctrine. Doctrine is not just abstract principles. It incorporates everything from theory to application. The military uses the term doctrine in this way, starting from planning, procedures, developing various ways in which they approach certain problems and issues and then all the way to the final product and its application implementation in warfare. The whole thing is covered under the concept of doctrine. This concept we have then is not just learning a lot of principles in some sort of abstract sense, sticking it away in notebooks so we can go home and say see how much I’ve learned about the Bible and theology. It should culminate in action, in changed life and living, in changed procedures that produce success in the Christian battlefield scenario. So we have doctrinal orientation which is aligning ourselves and our thinking to everything that the Bible teaches us about thinking and living.
These three work together in a dynamism as we learn promises, about God’s grace, content about doctrine, procedures, thinking. The result of the spiritual skills is character change. These are just the things that we act on. These skills of walking by the Spirit, faith rest drill, grace orientation, doctrinal orientation are just things we do to maintain the walk to stay in fellowship, but it is God the Holy Spirit that produces the fruit, the character transformation. We do not do that.
I cannot say that I am going to go out and produce love or joy or self-discipline today. Not in this sense; this is something that is a product of the Holy Spirit that is distinctively and uniquely produced by the Spirit in my life. The only command in Galatians 5:16–26 is to walk by the Spirit. When you walk by the Spirit, then the Spirit produces this. We cannot change our character into the character of Christ. This is summarized in this list in Galatians 5:22–23 “… love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
We are to obey the Scripture. Remember the context here in 2 Peter 1:4 talks about as we grow in knowledge, it lays a foundation for escaping the corruption of the world. But if we remain ignorant (no doctrinal orientation or knowledge), then we remain anchored to that corruption. 1 Peter 1:14 “As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance.” With knowledge you should not conform to the thinking and the operation of the world.
2 Peter 1:5, we add to faith virtue as we grow, as we develop faithfulness in the Word, and then we begin to see some character application and transformation by God the Holy Spirit. Then to virtue we add knowledge, which is the word gnosis. In 2 Peter 1:2, Peter says “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God …”—that is GNOSIS. Before you can have a full knowledge, a usable, applicable knowledge that leads to real wisdom in life, you have to know the facts. You have to know the facts that have been revealed in Scripture; there has to be a knowledge of information and what the Scriptures teach. GNOSIS is in verse 2 and verse 5. EPIGNOSIS is in verse 3 “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him …” That is taking the information level to the next level as a result of application and believing and trusting in the Lord.
2 Peter 1:6 “to knowledge self-control …” The Greek word for self-control is ENKRATEIA. It is an interesting word—it is a fruit of the Spirit. It is not something that you and I can just generate on our own.
I remember when I was a kid, I really wanted my dad’s Marine Corps KA-BAR knife. He said when I got a plus on my report card on self-discipline, I would get it. In elementary school, you had to earn everything you got. You started from a deficit, and if you wanted a check or plus, you had to prove it to the teacher. In junior high, they started everybody off with E for excellent, and we had to do something to lose it. It was not until I was in the 7th grade that they changed the grading system that I qualified under self-discipline.
Self-discipline is something anybody can generate in the flesh. There are a lot of very disciplined, organized, self-mastered individuals in the world, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with a spiritual fruit or spiritual character quality. This is a spiritual character quality that it does not matter what your personality is. Many of you have been in different jobs or careers where perhaps you had to take a certain personality test in order to maybe advance to another level. I know that these kinds of things were coming into vogue in the 1960s and 1970s, like the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis or the MMPI tests (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory). Fortunately, none of those were required for admission to Dallas Seminary until the 1980s when they started requiring that. There were really good men who did not qualify because they did not pass some psychological exam. That just shows the trends of their sin nature may be coming out in that.
What we are talking about in terms of spiritual maturity is that the Holy Spirit produces the character of Christ in us. In our flesh, operating in the sin nature, you may be a disorganized, lazy, undisciplined individual, but God the Holy Spirit is the one who transforms that. That does not transform through going through some sort of personal counseling or learning 5 steps to be a more organized, time-managed individual. It is the product of spiritual growth and is the Holy Spirit who changes us.
In contrast, what we have is a description in 2 Timothy 3 that in the last days people will be undisciplined and lack self-control. (Verses 1-3) “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good.” We certainly see that today—a tremendous lack of any kind of self-discipline or self-mastery among numerous segments of the population. (Verse 4) “traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God …” This a picture of modern society. But believers, no matter what their background or their character qualities as a result of their sin nature, can have that transformed through perseverance.
We read in 2 Peter 1:6 “to knowledge self-control [self-mastery], to self-control perseverance [learning to stay with it and stick to it], to perseverance godliness.” Perseverance is the idea of staying in difficult circumstances and continuing to do the right thing because it is the right thing no matter what the pressure is to go to an easier course of action.
The next step is godliness, EUSEBEIA, which in the old English gets the idea for godliness from the word God-likeness. It is a good word to a certain degree because it shows that what is being emphasized here is the character of God is being imparted and developed within the believer. It goes beyond that by studying both the use of the Greek word EUSEBEIA, as well as the Latin word pietas, which has the idea of not only developing this character of God but of showing reverence and loyalty to God.
The greatest commandment in the Old Testament, if you ask anybody who is Jewish, is what is called The Shemah. Shemah is a Hebrew word which means, literally translated, to listen or to hear. The Shemah is Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” Often that verse is taken to emphasize monotheism and a singularity of God within Judaism. But even some Jewish scholars are beginning to recognize that that is not the thrust of this word one. It is not talking about a singularity of God.
The word shemah is the opening word and is a command to hear or to listen, but it really has the implication of obey. If you as a parent come home and your child has disobeyed you, in scolding them you might say, “You didn’t listen to me.” You are not saying that they did not have their auditory nerves vibrated with the sound of your voice, but what you mean is “You didn’t obey me; you didn’t respond properly to my commands.” Hebrew does not have the wide range of vocabulary that English or Greek do, so one word had to function in a lot of different ways. One of the ways in which shemah functions is in the concept of meaning obey.
To freely translate Deuteronomy 6:4 would be “obey this, Israel.” It is a command. The Lord our God in the Hebrew is Yahweh Elohenu (our God, our Elohim). The focus is on Yahweh; who is this Yahweh? Yahweh echad actually has the idea of the Lord alone, not the Lord is one. Last time I pointed out that the idea of one does not always mean a singularity. It is also used in relation to Adam and Eve coming together, and the Lord said the two would become one flesh. It is a recognition that there is a multiplicity within a unity. But the word echad also has the meaning of alone. Even the Jewish Publication Society 1985 translation of the Old Testament (the Tanakh) translates Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord alone!” Modern linguistic scholarship has made it clear that that is the emphasis here, and throughout the Old Testament, there are corollary passages that emphasize that Israel is to worship God alone, not any other gods. That is what loyalty to God means.
When Jesus is asked what are the greatest commandments, He begins by saying “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one!” Why does He start with that? Because it is a command to Israel to be exclusively loyal to God, and then the greatest commandment flowing from that is the commandment that they are to love the Lord their God with all their heart (mind), soul (life), and strength – every aspect of their being. It is a call to complete and total dedication and loyalty to God and God alone. That is first and foremost, and then out of that flows the second commandment that they were to love their neighbor as themselves.
When we go back to 2 Peter 1 and the idea of godliness, it is this idea that brings in not only a reflection of God’s character but that loyalty. One of the greatest words describing the love of God in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word chesed, which refers to His faithful, loyal love. In fact, ahav, the other word for love, is not used that much of God. Chesed is used again and again, emphasizing that love is loyalty. If we were going to define love, that would have to be in the definition.
For example in the Old Testament, when a king would conquer another nation and the conquered king would have to swear loyalty and allegiance to the king who had conquered him, they would enter into a contract, and that covenant would demand that the conquered king love the conqueror. It did not mean that they had to feel good about him and all those things that we associate with romantic love. It meant that that conquered king had to be completely loyal to the conquering king despite how he might feel. He had to be loyal to him.