I’ve found that most people struggle to agree with God that we are fully forgiven, redeemed and justified by pure grace alone, for the sake of Jesus Christ alone. I know it’s difficult for me. That is why we need this gospel preached to us over and over. But wait. What about good works and loving my neighbor? What about trying to be a good person? What about virtue?
I think the first chapter of Peter’s 2nd Epistle can speak into this. So let’s go on a short exegetical walk together.
(vv. 3-4) “His [God’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
In verses 3-4, Peter tells us everything that has anything to do with life and godliness has been given to us by grace through faith in Christ. It’s all a gift. We are recipients of all the great and precious promises of God. The chief promise being: God made us godly and connected us to Christ so intimately that we are called partakers of His divine nature. We lack nothing. Before God, we are perfectly godly. We have escaped a world corrupted by our sinfulness by sheer gift.
(vv. 5-7) “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.”
Things can get confusing here if we’re not careful. Peter starts verses 5-7 with the statement “For this very reason…” In other words, because we have been given EVERYTHING we need. Because we have received life, godliness, forgiveness, and salvation by grace through faith in the promises of God, we are free to make every effort we can to supplement that faith with practical virtues.
These virtues are not to make us righteous before God. They are not to prove we are Christians. They are pursued for the good and love of our neighbor. Because God has given us everything, we stand before Him in complete holiness so our attention can turn to those around us. And this is the reason Peter’s list starts with virtue and ends with love. If we were made virtuous by God as a gift, we are free to gift love to those around us virtuously.
(v. 8) “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.”
What does it mean to be ineffective or unfruitful? It means if we don’t believe we have everything we need for life and godliness gifted to us in Christ, we will be too busy with ourselves to be any good to our neighbors. Jesus wasn’t concerned with His righteousness. He was concerned with His neighbor. That is part of what it means to be like Jesus. Knowing your standing before God the Father is unshakable, makes you free to be an effectively fruitful, sinner-loving neighbor.
(v. 9) “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”
What is the real reason Christians don’t supplement their faith with love for their neighbor? They are nearsighted to the point of blindness. They cannot take their eyes off themselves. They check for godliness and righteousness within themselves because they cannot believe they already possess everything they need through promise. They forget that all their sins were already washed away.
(v. 10) “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”
Peter drops a “therefore” at the beginning of verse 10. Meaning, because we are prone to nearsightedness (only looking at ourselves), and because we struggle to believe the gospel is truly enough, we are told to “be all the more diligent to confirm” that our salvation had and has nothing to do with us. At the end of the day, “calling and election” simply means: “salvation in Christ.” The calling is UNTO Christ. The election is INTO Christ.
The real struggle is “to confirm” (to agree) with Jesus when He says, “It is finished” (John 19:30). To agree and believe that all we need for life and godliness is already ours. The only way to get to the business of loving our neighbors is to agree with God that our salvation is free. Then and only then are we free enough to practice the qualities prepared for us.
What is remarkable is that Peter believes agreeing that salvation is done moves our eyes from ourselves to our neighbor, and this keeps us from falling. The surest way to fall is to be nearsighted, self-focused, and doubt we have been cleansed from our sins. The surest way to stand is to confirm what God has promised us in Christ, confess our sins are forgiven, forget about ourselves, and love those around us.
Agreeing with God isn’t easy. Confirming that salvation is free doesn’t come naturally. It is why we need to hear the gospel over and over again. A gospel with no ifs, ands, buts, or howevers. A gospel so radical it can even adjust our nearsighted eyes to see a world of neighbors we are free to love.