When I read the seven habits that Peter lists in 2 Pet. 1:5-7, I see the first four (virtue, knowledge, self-control, and perseverance) as focusing on our character, on what kind of people we are on the inside. The last three (godliness, brotherly kindness, and love) focus more on our relationships starting with God, then with other believers, and finally with all people. This speaks to the reality that good character is needed for building good relationships. Many people achieve success in their chosen career or occupation but fail in their personal lives. I suspect that often it is because they have not done what is needed to build strong character. By developing Christ-like character, we become the kind of people that can be faithful in relationships.
The first habit for strong character is virtue, or moral excellence. Good character starts with an unwavering commitment to doing what is morally right and avoiding what is morally wrong. A commitment to excellence is recognized as a key to achievement in the world today, but often a commitment to excellence in the business world is accompanied by a commitment to doing “whatever it takes” to succeed in terms of morality and ethics. As Charles Colson wrote, “Today, without a moral compass to gauge direction, ‘Does it work?’ has replaced ‘Is it right?’ as the question to ask in business decisions and lifestyle choices.” Make no mistake: one cannot be half-hearted in regards to morality without undermining one’s character and relationships.
The one moral compass that we can rely on is the Bible. Unlike the shifting tide of social opinion, the Bible contains God’s eternal truths as a reliable moral guide. At the same time, we all fall short of God’s commandments. It is because of this that the discipline of confession is essential in helping us grow in virtue. With each of the seven habits, we want to identify a practice or discipline that can help us intentionally grow in that area, as well as a promise from God that we can trust for His help. For confession we have this promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). In order to grow in virtue we must be cleansed from all unrighteousness and commit ourselves to lifestyle of obedience to God’s ways.
James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Notice that this verse tells us to confess our sins to someone else, not just privately to God. This is important because it requires us to humble ourselves in front of another human being. Also there are times when we must “put feet” on our confession by seeking forgiveness from those we have wronged and making restitution for harm that we have done. For many believers, the practice of confession is not a regular discipline. It may be difficult to find another person to whom one can confess. You might consider seeking out a mature Christian you can trust, perhaps a pastor or respected leader in your church, and ask if you could meet periodically for confession and prayer.
As a prelude to confession, particularly if it is not something you are accustomed to doing on a regular basis, a valuable exercise is to spend time before the Lord (maybe an hour or more) with a Bible as well as a pen and a piece of paper. Ask Him to reveal any specific sins in your life which must be confessed. Take the time to allow the Holy Spirit to thoroughly examine you, using this prayer of King David as a model: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Then receive His forgiveness and cleansing by faith.