Updated: Apr 29, 2020
Here's a fun tongue twister to say, five times fast: 'can a Christian really ever, "never fall?"' This sounds like either a trick question, or too good to be true! According to scripture, however, there is a way to never fall, and it begins by making EVERY effort to supplement your faith with an ancient Greek way of life, called "Arete." Sound familiar? If not, then please, read on!
2 Peter 1:5-10 - "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall."
"...supplement your faith with virtue..."
Supplement Your Faith with "Arete"
The original ancient Greek text uses the word "arete" in the place of our english equivalent, "virtue." Virtue, however, does not capture the historical context and significance of this amazing word: entire works of literature are dedicated to the notion of arete! The ancient Greeks used this word to describe reaching one's fullest potential, and it was a word applied even to inanimate objects. Arete was a philosophical pursuit of perfection - always just a bit out of reach - the epitome of continuous improvement, and a striving for excellence. Ancient Greek "heroes," were praised for their dedictation to Arete. The warrior Achilles, was praised for having attained arete in the area of warfare; the philosopher, Socrates, was heralded as having arete, in the realm of knowledge; a piece of art, even, could have been considered to have arete, by its excellent form. The ancient Greeks appear to have idolized the notion of arete. One who pursued arete, as a way of life (as many ancient Greeks did) would have meant a striving for excellence, in every area of life! Peter's message - in the scripture noted above - to the Christians of ancient Greece, would have sent a strong message as to the dedication one must embody, as a Christian.
The Right Order: Faith, Arete
There is a specific order recorded in 2 Peter 1:5-10, and perhaps we should take notice, especially, in light of how the ancient Greeks would have perceived the word arete. Using faith as a foundation, there are seven supplemental attributes to bolster the faith of a Christian, to prevent one from being unfruitful, ineffective, and prone to falling, starting with arete:
In the context of the passage, arete is not the aim of life, rather, faith is! One should enhance their faith, with the zeal, & dedication of arete! After all, the Christian walks by faith, not by sight.
"...arete is not the aim of life, rather, faith is!"
This would have been a paradigm shifting concept for the ancient Greeks; where pursuing arete (or virtue) was an aim of ancient Greek tradition, the Christian Way is to pursue faith, allowing arete (virtue) to conform to righteousness through Jesus Christ, not exerting itself outside the bounds of sound doctrine. One's arete then, is limited to one's understanding of the faith that they have been given. Practically, this means that one should strive to increase in the qualities that follow arete, in 2 Peter 1:5-10. We have been given a promise, that if the qualities listed above are ours, and are increasing, we are prevented from being ineffective and unfruitful; and if we practice those qualities, we are also told that we will never fall, and it starts with arete. These are promises of God, and should be given prayerful consideration and application.
These scriptures, are sharp edges of the sword of the Spirit, that we can use to cut through the blinding darkness, that can so easily lead the unassuming soul astray. The first step, in protecting oneself from being unfruitful, ineffective, and prone to falling, is to supplement one's faith with the lifestyle of arete. If you find yourself being tempted, ask yourself, if the temptation is contributing to your faith in a way that adds a quality of arete to your life. If you determine that what you're experiencing is a temptation, and does not add a quality of arete to your life, then turn away from that which draws you outside the bounds of a most excellent faith, acknowledging that the Spirit of God has lead you to overcome the flesh, keeping you from falling.
Grace and peace,