My son hit his first over-the-fence homerun the other weekend. It was a big moment against a tough pitcher who was shutting his team out. His homerun tied the game and ignited his team as they went on to win, not only the game, but the whole tournament.
My son is thirteen. A lot of baseball has been played before getting to that point. In fact, every spring, summer, and fall since he was five has been devoted to the game. In those eight years, he has literally taken tens of thousands of baseball swings.
A lot of things have to converge to be able to hit a baseball as far as he did when he hit his homerun. Against a good pitcher, your timing has to be perfect enough for the barrel of your bat to meet the center of the baseball before it crosses the plate. You have to hit the baseball with the right part of the bat—the “sweet spot” as baseball enthusiasts call it. You also have to generate enough bat speed and swing the bat at the right launch angle to send the ball far and high enough to clear the fence.
My point is simply this: No one picks up a baseball bat against a good pitcher for the very first time and lucks into hitting a homerun. The ability to hit a baseball with skill and power is cultivated over time through practice. The good hitter has swung the bat properly so many times that he doesn’t even have to think about it anymore. He has developed muscle memory. His timing has been tuned as he has faced thousands of pitches thrown at various speeds and locations.
In 2 Peter 1:10-11, the apostle Peter describes a similar process. He tells the church that if they “practice these qualities” they “will never fall.” Likewise, by practicing these qualities, they will be ensured entrance into the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Peter is challenging the church to practice their faith. Faith, in other words, does not lie dormant in the believer’s life waiting for an opportunity to manifest itself. Our faith in Christ—the faith that leads us to salvation—is meant to be lived. It is supposed to be practiced. Namely, Peter wants the church to cultivate the life habits of faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (1:5-7). These eight qualities accompany the life that has been “cleansed from former sins” (1:9).
Let me be clear about one thing: Peter is not saying that we earn entrance into the kingdom of Christ by performing these qualities. He knows that salvation only comes “by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ (1:1). No one can earn their way into God’s grace. Grace, by definition, is a gift, which eliminates the ability to earn it. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Jesus did it all for us.
While no one is saved by works, no one is saved without them. That’s Peter’s point. The person who has been forgiven and cleansed by God’s saving grace will confirm reception of that grace by practicing godliness. We aren’t saved by practicing these qualities, but we aren’t saved without them. Knowing Jesus results in becoming like Jesus. Faith must be practiced.
I recently asked a group of people to name something they were each good at. As they took turns naming things, I asked, “How did you get good at that?” In every instance, the answer was the same, “I did it over and over,” or, “I practiced.” Human beings are designed by God to grow through repetition and habits. We make progress when we do something so much that muscle memory results. Over time, the truly skilled person no longer has to even think about what they are doing. They have so repeated the skill that it comes almost automatically.
If that’s how we develop important skills in other areas of our lives, what prevents us from applying that same methodology to cultivating virtue and godliness? It seems to me, following Peter, that the pathway to godliness consists in practicing habits of godliness in the strength provided by God’s grace. In other words, if I want to grow in self-control, I need to find small ways in my day-to-day life to exercise self-control. If I want to grow in loving others, I need to find small daily ways to put others before myself.
A few years ago, out of alarm by my selfishness, I started parking as far away as possible when I would go to the grocery store. I was trying to replace my normal tendency of racing other drivers to the best spots with a new habit of putting others first. I was hoping it would help me to be a more loving person.
While my example is silly, I’m more convinced than ever that the way forward in godliness and virtue must come through grace-infused practice. Will you practice your faith?