2 Peter 1:5–11
Last Sunday we saw in 2 Peter 1:1–4 that God's divine power has been given to all who have obtained faith in the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ; and that this divine power becomes effective through the knowledge that God has called us to his glory and excellence. Or to put it another way, when we hang the carrot of God's promises in front of our eyes, we have power to resist the temptations of evil and are lured on in paths of justice and love unto eternal life. The main thought last week was: our goal is life and godliness, the source of strength to become godly is divine power, and the activating connection between the goal of godliness and the source of divine power is knowing and trusting the promises of God. We are the light bulbs of our neighborhoods; God is the distant generator of electricity; and the cables that carry the power are God's promises.
The Logic of Godliness
Today's text is verses 5–11. We will begin by looking at verses 5–7, which I will read from the RSV:
Probably the most important thing to notice here is that this command is based on verses 3 and 4 which are not a command but a description of what God has done for us. God's divine power has given us all things that lead to godliness (v. 3); "for this reason" make every effort yourself to be godly. Don't miss the connection (though the KJV misses it). Since God has given power for godliness, strive to become godly! This is the heart of New Testament ethics. We labor for virtue because God has already labored for us and is at work in us. Don't ever reverse the order, lest you believe another gospel (which is no gospel). Never say, "I will work out my salvation in order that God might work in me." But say with the apostle Paul, "I work out my salvation for it is God who works in me to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). Never say, "I press on to make it my own in order that Christ might make me his own." But say with Paul, "I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own" (Philippians 3:12). There is a world of difference in a marriage where the husband doubts the love of his wife and labors to earn it, and a marriage where the husband rests in the certainty of his wife's love and takes pains joyfully not to live unworthily of it. Peter's point is: God is for us with divine power. Of that we may be sure. Now, in the confidence of that power, take pains not to live unworthily of his love.
And 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.
Forward in Faith
Verses 5–7 describe how we should live. There are eight things he mentions: faith, virtue (or moral excellence, or fortitude), knowledge, self-control, steadfastness (or patience), godliness, brotherly affection, and love. The list begins with faith and ends with love. That agrees with the rest of the New Testament: confidence in God's promises is the way we plug into God's power, and love (even for our enemies) is the goal and sum of life, the light of the world that shows others the way into the kingdom.
Between faith and love are six other qualities we should have. I don't think Peter means, though, that they are added to our character always in just this sequence. There is a lot of overlapping among these qualities. For example, love is already present in patience (1 Corinthians 13:4). It is not strictly added on. Therefore, I think what Peter is saying in verses 5–7 is this: true Christians do not stop pursuing growth in grace (3:18). They go on. They advance. They apply themselves with diligence to increase in these things (as verse 8 says). Peter calls us to a holy dissatisfaction with our present attainments.
The literal translation of verses 5–7 does not say, "add to your faith virtue" and so on; it says, "furnish in your faith virtue" and so on. You can hear a kind of surging "Forward! Forward! Forward!" if we render like this: "as you have obtained faith in Christ and stand in it, now apply yourself diligently to advance in moral excellence; and as you stand in that, do not be satisfied but press on to increase your knowledge of God's will; and as you stand in that, do not be satisfied but be diligent to enlarge your capacities of self-control and mastery of your passions; and as you stand in that, don't be satisfied but cultivate every form of patience and serenity; and in that let devoutness and piety and sweet love to God flourish; and in that strive to kindle your affection for other believers; and in and through it all grow in love to all men." In other words: Forward! Forward! Press On! Advance!
Don't Float; Swim Hard
Last week I read a true story to the boys entitled Glenda's Long Swim in "The Incredible Series." Glenda and Robert Lennon were four miles off the coast of Florida fishing alone from their yacht. Glenda decided to take a swim and soon found the current had carried her too far out from the boat. Her husband, hearing her cries, without thinking dove in and swam to her, but then realized they were both being carried out. He was a champion swimmer, but not she. They made a plan. He would swim against the tide to keep the boat in view until the tide ceased and he could reach the boat. She should save her strength and just float with the tide and he would come and get her. He fought the tide for six hours and just as the boat was about to disappear on the horizon the tide turned and his strokes carried him to the boat exhausted. The sun had set. His searching was futile—he could not find his wife. The next day on one last effort of search, the search party found his wife—twenty miles out and still alive. It was an incredible story.
What it illustrates is this: Christians who just float never stay in the same place. Christians who disobey verses 5–7 and do not apply themselves with diligence to bear the fruit of faith drift into great peril. We must strive even to stand still, the tide of temptation is so strong.
The effort towards virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly affection, and love is not dispensable icing on the cake of faith. If Robert had not swum with all his might, the yacht would have gone out of sight, and he and his wife would have drowned. I've said before and will say again: we do not judge a person's genuineness by how close he is to heaven but by how hard he is stroking. The evidence that God's power has been given to you by faith is that you are now making every effort (as verse 5 says) to advance in the qualities of Christ.
Verse 8 makes explicit the warning I have sounded: "For if these things are yours and abound, they keep you from being ineffectual and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." Recall from verse 2 that it is in "the knowledge" of Christ that there can be a barren and fruitless knowledge of Christ. It is possible to make a start in the Christian life, but then to become indifferent and unfeeling and careless in using the means of grace, and to drift into destruction. 2 Peter 2:20 says, "If after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first." If the knowledge of God's glorious promises does not spur us on to strive against the tide, then we will be barren and fruitless and drift to our destruction.
The Consequence of Not Swimming
Verse 9 describes what has happened in the person who quits swimming and is not pressing forward in Christ's qualities. "For whoever lacks these things (in verses 5–7) is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins." The problem with the person who does not strive toward all the fruit of faith is that he is blind in two directions. When he looks to the future, it's all a haze, and the promises of God are swallowed up in a blur of worldly longings. I think that is what it means by shortsighted. And when he looks to the past, the forgiveness that made him so excited at first is well-nigh forgotten, and all he sees is an empty prayer and a meaningless ritual of baptism. In other words, just as in verse 3 the power for godliness flows through knowledge of God, so in verse 9 blindness to the past and future work of God blocks that power and leaves us limp in the water, drifting toward destruction.
Verse 10 makes crystal clear what is at stake in such blindness and powerlessness and fruitlessness: "Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election." The danger described in verses 8 and 9 (as an incentive to advance in the fruits of faith) is not the danger of slipping into the kingdom with no rewards. It is the danger of not being saved at all. When Peter says, "Be zealous to confirm your call and election," he means that our lack of diligence in Christian graces may be a sign that we were never called and are not among the elect.
However you have been taught on this matter of election, please give very close attention to this verse. The assumption is that the whole world lies under the righteous judgment of God because of sin. But because of his great mercy, God ordained that a people for his own be saved by grace. These are his elect, his chosen whom he has predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. And Paul explains in Romans 8:30 that those elect whom he predestined to Christ-likeness he also called, and whom he called he also justified, and whom he justified he also glorified. None of God's sheep will ever be lost. They are eternally secure. But from our side, the most important question of life is: am I among the elect who God predestines to be like Christ and then calls and justifies and glorifies forever? If we are, God wants us to know that we are. He wants us to have joyful assurance, for out of that assurance flows tremendous power for sacrificial service that gives him glory.
Sanctification and Assurance
Therefore Peter says, "Confirm your election! Make sure of it!" How? By standing in your faith and pressing on to virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. John said (in 1 John 3:14), "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren" (cf. 2:3). The confirmation of your election is your progress in sanctification. God predestined all the elect to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Therefore, the reassuring evidence of our election is Christ-likeness.
So verses 10 and 11 conclude: "If you do these things (referring back to vv. 5–7), you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly affection, love—these are not the wages that we pay to earn entrance into the eternal kingdom, but they are the necessary evidence that our trust in God's promise is genuine, and in that way they are the confirmation of our call and election.
Now let's just close by applying the lesson to ourselves. The point of verses 5–11 is that we should earnestly confirm our call and election by making every effort to advance in the qualities of Christ (vv. 5-7). So here's the application: Are you making every effort towards moral excellence? Are you making every effort to increase your knowledge of God's character and his will? Are you making every effort to strengthen your power of self-control? Are you making every effort to enlarge your capacity for patience? Are you making every effort to cultivate godliness to develop a heart for God? Are you making every effort to grow warm in your affection for your fellow believers? And are you making every effort to stir up love in your will for the person you dislike the most? If these things are in you and increasing, you will not be fruitless (v. 8), you will never stumble (v. 10), and you will enter the eternal kingdom of Christ (v. 11). But if these things are not your earnest concern, then it is because you have shut your eyes to the beauty of God's promises, and have forgotten the humble exhilaration of being forgiven.
Therefore, the Word of God warns us against being lazy in our faith and drifting away from Jesus Christ our only hope. And the Word encourages us to fight the good fight of faith and take hold on eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12, 19); to lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely and run with perseverance the race before us (Hebrews 12:1); to press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14); to advance and grow and go forward in virtue and knowledge and self-control and patience and godliness and brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1:5–7); and in this way to reassure our hearts and make our confidence firm that we are indeed called to share in God's glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:10, 3).