Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 18

Originally posted March 9, 2018, at Women of Purpose.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith … 2 Peter 1:5a

This week’s lesson deals with the consequence of last week’s passage. Because God’s power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, we are to give diligent effort to grow in all things that pertain to life and godliness. As Martin Lloyd-Jones teaches, “The Apostle does not ask us to do anything until he has first of all emphasized and repeated what God has done for us in Christ.”[1]

Peter makes clear at the opening of this letter that God’s work undergirds our growth. Because God gives us faith; because he has saved us based on the righteousness of Christ; because his power grants us all that we need to live godly lives; because through his promises we become partakers of the divine nature, we are called to grow in these virtues. Christ saved us not so that we would sit back and relax our way to heaven, but that we might “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2).

The Greek word that Peter uses which is translated in verse 5 as either “to add” or “to supplement” makes an interesting point. All three commentaries I checked said the same thing, and it’s illuminating. “The word comes from the Greek world of stage and drama. The director of a play not only coached the cast. Together with the state, he also paid the expenses the members incurred for giving a performance on stage. In other words, the choir master added his financial contribution to the amount the state supplied. This verb ‘to add,’ then, signifies that the believer contributes lavishly to the work of his salvation.”[2] So, God’s work not only undergirds, but in this illustration, he “underwrites” our sanctification, to which we add from our own “pockets.”

God gives us faith as the foundation, and upon that faith we are to give diligent effort, with urgency and haste, to building virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. Peter told us in verse 4 the reason why we are to make every effort to add these virtues to our faith. Because God granted to us his “precious and very great promises,” through which we became “partakers of the divine nature,” we have escaped the sinful desires which have corrupted the world. This list of virtues is, as it were, “the fruit of our being partakers of the divine nature.”[3] Since God has made possible our Great Escape, how could we not join with him in cultivating such desirable fruit?

Some would ask why we need to put forth any effort of our own, isn’t that legalism? Effort in our spiritual lives is only legalism if we see it as earning us any merit for salvation. What Peter is here addressing is our part AFTER God has unilaterally, sovereignly, and sufficiently saved us from our sins. Keep that as the first thought for our entire discussion. God has saved us—period. Now, what do we do in response? With that as our framework, we can then read the following passages of Scripture with the proper perspective:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12, 13)

 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Col. 1:9-11)

God’s part alone is the beginning of our salvation, with his gracious gift of faith. For the middle and end of our sanctification we work together with him, obeying him, strengthened with his power, bearing fruit, filled with his Spirit, increasing in knowledge of him, walking with endurance and patience in a manner worthy of the Lord, according to his glorious might. It’s a glorious mash-up of partnership with God as he makes us holy and we work toward holiness.

Let’s now take a closer look at the virtues Peter lists for us in our passage.

“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” (5b-7)

Virtue, also translated as goodness or moral excellence, is the first on our list, and as each of those words define the others, I’ll jump straight to what Michael Green says about the word from which they are translated in the Greek.

“[The word Peter uses] means ‘excellence,’ and was used to denote the proper fulfilment of anything. The excellence of a knife is to cut, of a horse to run… [A Christian’s] life must reflect something of the attractive character of Christ. That likeness cannot be acquired except through personal and continuous encounter with him by faith.”[4]

In other words, as only God is truly ‘good’ (Psalm 100:5; Mark 10:18), and Jesus is God (Col. 1:15), and by our sanctification we are being transformed into his image (2 Cor. 3:18), the ‘proper fulfilment’ of our lives as Christians is to reflect the goodness of Christ. By striving to add goodness to our faith, we are growing in our likeness to Christ.

In Luke 6, Jesus taught us why this is so foundational to living a Christian life: “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:43-45). This attribute of a Christian is foundational because it determines the nature of our fruit; we must be trees bearing good fruit for Christ’s glory. Fruit comes from our hearts. Those who are evil may be able to disguise their hearts for a time, but their fruit will eventually reveal their true nature.

Green wrote of the necessity of our being personally and continuously encountering Jesus in order to acquire his likeness. Jesus told us how this is possible: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4, 5)

This fruit-bearing, Jesus-reflecting purpose for our lives is properly fulfilled as we abide in Christ. Connected to the Vine, we draw upon him for the fruit we bear, and his sap runs through our veins to nourish our fruit with his goodness. We are therefore rendered effective and fruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:8). And so, growing in goodness leads to knowledge.

Before addressing the next virtue, I want to mention something else which came up in more than one of the commentaries. This list of virtues is not a sequential list, not rungs on a ‘ladder to holiness,’ as it were. We don’t acquire goodness, and once we have that down, then move on to knowledge, and once we know it all we then begin with self-control. No. These all work together, in varying degrees, building up and lending to one another as we progress in our sanctification. I know we like lists and checking things off them as we attain our goals, but that’s not what Peter has in view.

Now that we have that straight, we move to the next virtue in Peter’s list: knowledge. Paul wrote of the importance of knowing Christ in eloquent and moving terms:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Cor. 2:1-5)

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” (Phil. 3:8-10)

Remembering that Peter has written this epistle to warn against the dangers of false teachers gives us some insight into why he wants his readers to diligently grow in knowledge. False teachers will attempt to seduce the flock away from the genuine knowledge of the faith by introducing a counterfeit knowledge. How does one spot a counterfeit? The methods employed in the world of banking and currency give us a remarkably biblical answer.

“Federal agents don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying the counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing. Then when they see the bogus money they recognize it.”[5]

Peter wants his readers to be so filled with the true knowledge of the faith and of Jesus Christ that they will quickly spot bogus faith when false teachers try to hand it to them. Indeed, the same danger lurks today for believers everywhere. Walk into just about any Christian bookstore and the wolves grin at you from the covers of the newest bestsellers. The knowledge which we need to spot the counterfeits is more than a stack of facts at our fingertips: it is the insight born of the wisdom which comes from the fear of the Lord (Prov. 9:10). Filled with this loving, reverent knowledge of Christ, all the bogus beliefs that the world offers will show themselves for what they truly are: rubbish.

In his first epistle, Peter wrote often about self-control and perseverance, and he lists them here as important virtues to cultivate as we grow in sanctification. Our attitude must differ from the attitude of the world which cries, “If it feels good, do it!” In his first epistle Peter tied our perseverance and self-control not only to a view of our eternal destiny, but to an awareness that we have an adversary who is not resting in seeking opportunities to “devour” us (1 Peter 1:6-7, 13; 2:11; 4:7; 5:8). Paul also spoke to this:

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17, 18)

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Col. 3:1-5)

The world seeks by every means to avoid affliction and to indulge that which is earthly in them. Christ calls us to a harder path, and it is frequently painful to follow him. But Paul and Peter encourage us that it is more than worth the temporary agony or embarrassment we will encounter. We must fix our eyes on Jesus and his promises of eternity with him. Because we are in Christ we have a glorious destination.

The next two virtues, godliness and brotherly kindness, are relational and deal with how we relate to God and our neighbor. The apostle John wrote about how these are intimately connected.

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:19-5:2)

Our love for one another has its origin in God’s love for us. Without God first loving us we cannot possibly love others. Conversely, if we show by our words and deeds that we do not love our brethren, then we reveal our own lack of love for God. Just as we learned above that God is good, and is therefore the fount of our own goodness, so here we learn that he is also the fount of our own love, for, as John wrote earlier in this same letter, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). And real love is not merely a feeling, but pours itself into action, as Paul wrote to the Romans: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (12:9-13). Sisters, let us strive to show love to one another in real, tangible ways.

We realize, of course, that loving one another isn’t easy for many reasons, one of which being we are oftentimes rather unlovable ourselves. Take a moment to meditate upon Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians. Don’t let its familiarity cause you to sweep past the heavy demands it places upon us. Maybe read it in a couple of different translations to rock you out of the familiar ruts in which you may be hearing the radical counter-cultural call to sacrificial love which rings from the passage:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7, ESV)

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (NIV)

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (NKJV)

A question at this point in our study asks us if we have every truly loved anyone in such an entirely unconditional way. The same two answers were given in both classes. The first was that, no, of course we haven’t—many of us have been Presbyterians way to long to fall for a trick question like this (!). The second answer, with tears in its eyes, recalled the moment our newborn child is placed in our arms for the first time…. I think, somehow, both answers are correct.

Peter writes that there will be two results from our possession of these virtues in increasing measure, one phrased in positive terms and the other in negative.

“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.” (8, 9)

Positively, if we grow in these virtues we can expect to be fruitful and effective in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. This fruitful and effective knowledge will certainly help Peter’s readers, including us, when the false teachers begin spinning their webs of deceit. Negatively, the hypothetical “whoever” (Peter is not pointing an accusing finger at anyone here), who does not grow in these virtues is both blind and forgetful. To neglect one’s sanctification is to render oneself “nearsighted” so that the eternal finish line to which we are running can no longer be seen. And, looking behind, one forgets that it was Christ’s shed blood that paid our entrance to the race and God’s initiative in our new birth which set us running in the first place. To be idle in sanctification is to live as if you have no history and no future. This is a sad person indeed, for she has forgotten that her chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever,[6] and therefore loses out on the exhilaration of the journey and the anticipation of the joy at the end.

Remembering that Jesus paid the high cost of our redemption motivates us to pursue these virtues out of gratitude and joyful obedience. Peter wrote in his first epistle that, “[Christ] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (2:24). Paul wrote to Titus that, “[Jesus] gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (2:14) This was part of the purpose for Christ’s death—that we might live to righteousness and be his own special people zealously pursuing the good works which God prepared beforehand for us to walk in (Eph. 2:10)!

The question in our study for verse 10 asks us to identify two more gifts that God has given us, and by almost unanimous consent we agreed in class that it’s a strangely-worded question. So, I’m going off-script to simply look at what verse 10 does tell us, because it’s enormously comforting.

“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (10)

Peter is here tenderly addressing his readers with deep encouragement, so they will be assured of their faith and their security in Christ. Those who have never struggled with their assurance may not understand the terror and twisting such insecurity creates in a believer’s heart and mind. Peter realizes that the attacks that are coming will be directed at their faith and so they must be strengthened exactly there. Like shoring up the levy before the storm or mounting cannons in the fortress before the invading hordes arrive, Peter is giving his readers ammunition against the enemy attacks before they arrive.

When Peter tells them to make their calling and election sure he isn’t telling them that they are the origin of their own calling or that they are responsible for “holding on tightly enough to stay saved.” Plucked out of context this verse has been used to misrepresent its intended meaning. We must therefore, read it in context with our foundational principle from above, namely: God has saved us—period. Now, what do we do in response? With this context firmly in place, I know that if I am in Christ, my calling and election are certain and sure by God’s power (1 Peter 1:5). I become even more certain in my own mind that I am securely in Christ as I grow in these virtues and see the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in my life.

“Election and calling are and remain God’s redemptive acts. God elects man in eternity (Eph. 1:4), but calls him in time (Rom. 8:30) … The task for man is to appropriate his salvation so that he is absolutely certain of the calling with which God has called him and can live in the knowledge that he is God’s child (2 Tim. 1:9).

Calling is not merely an invitation; it is a royal command which man must obey. And election is evidence of God’s grace and love toward man. Man, then, must take possession of his election by exercising the virtues Peter outlines in verses 5-7.”[7]

God has elected me in eternity and called me in history and I must obey! Practicing these qualities in which I am to grow in faith, then, is an act of obedience, which I cannot really pursue unless I am elect and called in the first place. Martin Lloyd-Jones gives us more reasons to be certain of our calling:

“We should make certain of our calling because otherwise we are incomplete Christians, and underdeveloped and not completely grown Christians… If we are not certain [of our salvation] we cannot rejoice.”

And furthermore:

“To have this assurance makes us better witnesses for Christ… The best worker for God and for Christ is the man who is most certain and sure of his position before God. If a man is uncertain of his salvation and position, how can he preach and recommend the Gospel? How can he speak to others about it truly? While there are doubts and fears and uncertainties, one, in a sense, has not the right to speak. There is nothing so crippling to our witness and testimony as uncertainty about this matter.”[8]

To be unsure of my faith cripples my witness to it and my joy in it. For those who would see in our verse a call to legalism, Lloyd-Jones later adds this:

“The New Testament makes holiness the most reasonable and commonsense thing imaginable, and its whole case with respect to those who are not concerned about holiness is that they are utterly unreasonable and self-contradictory… according to the New Testament itself there is nothing which is so unreasonable and illogical as a professing Christian who objects to the New Testament call to holiness. …ultimately one of the tests as to whether my profession is of any real value or not, is my response to this New Testament appeal.”[9]

God’s purpose in our election and calling is ultimately, his own glory. In Romans Paul teaches that the purpose for those whom God calls is that we might be conformed to the image of his Son (8:29). Peter wrote in the opening of his first epistle that we are elect according to the foreknowledge of God, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood (1 Peter 1:1, 2). When we are being conformed to Christ’s image, obeying him, growing in sanctification after being cleansed from our sins, this brings glory to our God and to Jesus Christ his Son.

Our spiritual lives are pictured in verses 10 and 11 as a long journey toward a grand destination.

“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  (10, 11)

Peter makes the bold declaration that practicing and growing in these virtues will keep us from stumbling and falling along the way. To be sure, we will still sin, sometimes grievously. But we can never sin so greatly as to propel ourselves out of God’s mighty grip of grace. Practicing these virtues will help us on our long journey as we exercise the muscles of our faith and learn to spot falsehood and temptations more quickly, so we may avoid them more often. Our spiritual resolve will be strengthened and our confidence in the Lord will grow as we grow in holiness. Like our spiritual father Abraham, we are strangers and pilgrims, traveling through a land not our own, “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). We may feel as if we are in a dry and weary land, with no end in sight, but for God’s children, his eternal promises are already true even though not yet fulfilled for us in time.

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:22-24)

Sisters, let us keep our eyes on the prize.

[1] D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 23.

[2] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 2 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987), 251.

[3] Michael Green, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), 66.

[4] Green, 67.

[5] Tim followed the quote in his blog post with, “I can’t count the number of times I have read quotes similar to that one, taken from John MacArthur’s Reckless Faith.” In this post he recounts his visit to the Bank of Canada to learn if this was really a true test of counterfeit currency. It was.

[6] Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism, Question and Answer #1.

[7] Kistemaker, 257, italics and underlining mine.

[8] Lloyd-Jones, 38-39.

[9] Ibid., 42 & 43.

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