A Secured Faith that Keeps the Saints from Stumbling (2 Peter 1:8-11)
1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
One of my seminary professors announced to our class that he would be gone for a week. An excellent golfer, he had been invited to speak to a group of believers who were golf professionals. I asked if he planned to preach a “golf” theme similar to Billy Sunday who used to preach with a “baseball” theme. If so, I suggested his title might be, “Where will you be at the last hole?” I was rewarded with a chuckle from this southern gentleman, who pondered a moment before saying, “If you think of any more titles like that before I leave, give me a call.”
A “golf title” for the 2 Peter 1:8-11 text which we are considering in this message might be, “How to avoid the sand traps of the Christian life.” In the first four verses of his epistle, Peter lays a foundation for what follows by reminding his Christian readers of the sufficiency of the resources which our sovereign God has provided for our salvation and for our sanctification:
1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:1-4).
In these verses, Peter sets out the goal of our salvation and its means. Through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we have been given faith in Him, resulting in a salvation which destines us to become like Christ. Having escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust, we are now destined to become partakers of the divine nature (see also Romans 8:28-29). The means by which God works in and through us is His Word, “His precious and magnificent promises” (verse 4).
In verses 5-7, Peter explains the method by which we work out our faith and strive toward Christlikeness. Beginning with faith, Peter sets out eight character qualities for which the believer should diligently strive:
5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
These verses go much further than a mere explanation of the steps to Christian maturity—they exhort us to exert ourselves in the pursuit of holiness. Contrary to the views of some (certainly not most Calvinists), the sovereignty of God is no excuse for laziness or inactivity. Indeed, inactivity is one of the evils from which we are to be delivered (see verse 8). The sovereignty of God and the sufficiency of His provisions are the basis for our diligent pursuit of Christian character as laid out in verses 5-7.
What a wonderful incentive to godly living we find in verses 1-7. God has saved us from our sins through the righteousness of His Son. He has purposed for us to be conformed to the image of His Son. He has made every provision for us, as we strive by His grace, to attain the divine qualities of verses 5-7. Now, in verses 8-11, Peter provides even further motivation for us to apply all diligence in supplying what God requires of us and produces in us.
The Structure of Our Text
Our text falls into two main parts. Verses 8 and 9 outline the negative benefits of pursuing holiness as previously described in verses 5-7. Verses 10 and 11 are another exhortation to believers to pursue holiness, with a two-fold assurance: those who do so will never stumble (verse 10), and those who do so will have an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (verse 11).
Looking at our text more broadly will help before we begin a detailed study of verses 8-11.
(1) This text is a battlefield. No one can approach this text with a neutral frame of mind. Each of us has our own preferences and presuppositions based upon our desires, our experiences, our previous exposure to teaching, our own personal study, and our own theological persuasions. In days gone by, the teaching of John Calvin influenced the way some interpret this text. In more recent times, the so-called “Hodges/MacArthur Controversy” has tended to polarize Christians into opposing sides, and this text is viewed as critical by both.
In studying this text over the past several weeks, I have been painfully aware that I have friends on both sides of this debate. I love and respect my friends on both sides. I feared that in my exposition of this text, I would side with one group and alienate the other. My apprehension has now increased as I came to the conclusion that I can side with neither position, and thus I may offend all.
If we cannot set aside our biases, at least we should acknowledge them, and pray that God may, through His Spirit, use this text to reshape our theology rather than allow our theology (or just plain prejudice) to warp our interpretation of this text.
(2) Peter assumes his readers are saved. While every audience of believers may include some who are lost, Peter writes to this group of saints as if they were true believers. Consider these statements in verses 1-12:
“… to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, … ” (v. 1).
“ … in your faith supply… ” (verse 5).
“having forgotten his purification from his former sins” (verse 9).
“Therefore, brethren, … ” (verse 10).
“… to remind you of these things, even though you already know them and have been established in the truth which is present with you” (verse 12).
In our text, Peter is not seeking to create doubt in the minds of his readers about whether they are saved. Rather, he is writing to them as though they were saved.
(3) In these verses, Peter does not teach that a person must work to earn or obtain their salvation. Verses 1-4 emphasize that we have been saved solely on the basis of the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. We in no way contribute to our salvation through our own efforts or works. Verses 5-7 call upon every Christian to diligently strive to supply the virtues which the grace of God makes possible for the saint. We do not work to be saved; we work because we have been saved. A living faith works (see James 2). But that faith has been received (2 Peter 1:1).
(4) The list of dangers Peter enumerates does not include “losing one’s salvation.” Just as Peter, nor any other biblical author, does not teach that one is saved by works, neither does he teach that one stays saved by works. All things are of Him, through Him, and to Him (Romans 11:36). We possess nothing spiritually which we have not received from God (1 Corinthians 4:7). Our salvation is certain because He is faithful and does not change, and no one shall pluck us from His hand (see James 1:17; Philippians 1:6; John 10:27-30).
(5) The list of dangers Peter enumerates in this text does not include “doubting one’s faith.” In the current faith/works debate, both sides seem to agree that 2 Peter 1:8-11 is about assurance. Those who emphasize faith insist that the believer’s assurance is to be found in God, in His sovereignty, and in the sufficiency of His provisions. Those who stress the necessity for works (as an evidence of faith) insist that there is some measure of assurance to be gained by obedience and fruitfulness. As we see God at work in our lives, we are more confident that our faith is alive and well, they say. I see a measure of truth in both positions, but I do not see Peter emphasizing assurance in this text. It is not assurance that is so prominent, but what we attain (an abundant entrance into the kingdom of God, verse 11) and what we avoid (uselessness, unfruitfulness, blindness, short-sightedness, forgetfulness, stumbling).
The Benefits of Pursuing Holiness
In 1 Peter 1:13-21, Peter exhorted the saints to leave behind their former manner of thinking and conducting themselves and to pursue holiness, because God is holy (see especially verses 14-16). In that text, Peter did not spell out how holiness was to be pursued to the degree that he now does in 2 Peter 1:1-11. Here Peter informs us that the goal is to “become partakers of the divine nature”—becoming conformed to the image of Christ (see also Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 4:13). The basis for this is found in the redemptive work God has accomplished in Christ and the provision of His Word. The means by which this is accomplished is our diligent pursuit of holiness, as we depend upon God and His provisions for our growth and maturity.
All of this has been spelled out in verses 1-7. Now, in verses 8-11, Peter enumerates some of the personal benefits the Christian gains from the pursuit of holiness. These benefits are described both negatively and positively. Peter begins with the negative benefits in verses 8-9 and then urges us to “be all the more diligent to make our calling and election sure,” with the assurance that “as long as you practice these things,” you will never stumble, and you will have an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Benefits of Being Blessed By What We Avoid
Salvation brings with it two-fold blessings. We are blessed by what we gain just as we are blessed by what we escape or leave behind. For example, we are blessed by being justified, declared righteous through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We are also blessed by what we leave behind or escape: our sins are forgiven and forgotten. Those who are saved gain entrance into heaven; we are likewise blessed by escaping the horrors of hell. In Peter’s words, we not only “become partakers of the divine nature,” we also “escape the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:4). Let us consider those blessings which Peter lists that we experience by escaping evil and its consequences.
(1) The blessing of avoiding uselessness and unfruitfulness (verse 8). The term rendered “useless” may also mean “idle.” An “idle” person is unproductive and thus useless. One who is not diligently pursuing holiness, as Peter describes in verses 5-7, is idle and useless. One who diligently pursues holiness is being useful.
The “useless” or “idle” saint may not immediately appear to be either idle or useless. He or she may be very busy. They might be called “hard-working” or even a “workaholic” by their peers. The sluggard of the Book of Proverbs also works hard at what he likes, but he is idle with regard to those things that are demanding or disgusting to him. The one who pursues holiness is neither idle nor useless with regard to spiritual attitudes and actions.
Our Lord had some very harsh words for those who are lazy and idle. Consider His words to this steward:
24 “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no [seed.] 25 And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no [seed.] 27 Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my [money] back with interest. 28 Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’ 29 For to everyone who has shall [more] be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 30 And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:24-30, emphasis mine).
This slave did not make use of what the master had given him. He was idle and unprofitable, and his punishment was severe.37
I understand the term “unfruitful” to be a synonym of “idle” or “useless,” further explaining what Peter meant by the first term. To be idle is to be unprofitable or unfruitful. Fruitfulness has always been regarded as characteristic of the saint and unfruitfulness a condition to be avoided (see Psalm 1:3; Matthew 3:7-10; 7:17-19; 13:23; John 15:1-8; Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 1:11). Our Lord’s cursing of the barren fig tree is indicative of His displeasure toward those who are unfruitful (see Matthew 21:19-22).38
(2) The blessing of avoiding blindness and short-sightedness (verse 9). Those who are not saved are blind to spiritual truth:
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
The Christian’s spiritual eyes are opened so that spiritual truth can be seen. The Christian is divinely enabled to “see” the “unseen:”
14 “And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; 15 FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES LEST THEY SHOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I SHOULD HEAL THEM.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear” (Matthew 13:14-16).
17 “‘Delivering you from the [Jewish] people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me’” (Acts 26:17-18).
1 Now faith is the assurance of [things] hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1; see also Hebrews 12:1-2).
8 And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8).
16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Spiritual sight is divinely given at the time of one’s conversion, and spiritual illumination continues to take place through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).
As we have seen above, the “eye” is used of more than merely physical sight. The “eye” is used to refer to one’s perception and desires:
15 “‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’” (Matthew 20:15).
34 “The lamp of your body is your eye; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness (Luke 11:34 NAS).
14 Having eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children (2 Peter 2:14).
The key to understanding Peter’s words regarding blindness may well be found in this text in Matthew:
10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 And He answered and said to them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. 12 For whoever has, to him shall [more] be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; 15 FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES LEST THEY SHOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I SHOULD HEAL THEM. ‘ 16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see [it]; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear [it]” (Matthew 13:10-17).
According to Jesus’ words here, the ability to continue to “see” as he should is dependent upon his response to what he has already “seen.” To fail to appropriate previous revelation makes one increasingly blind to spiritual realities. Practicing the truth one has received causes one to possess that truth and prepares them for “seeing” further truths.
This is what Peter teaches in our text. The pursuit of verses 5-7 is putting into “practice” the knowledge God has provided, a knowledge sufficient for “life and godliness.” To fail to pursue holiness is to become increasingly blind. Spiritual blindness manifests itself as short-sightedness.39 Instead of “fixing our hope” on the spiritual and eternal certainties which God has promised and provided for us, we see only in the present. No wonder this generation has been called the “now generation.” It is a sad statement of the spiritual blindness of our age, a blindness which has resulted from ignoring the truths of the Word of God. The pursuit of holiness keeps us from impaired spiritual vision.
(3) The blessing of avoiding forgetfulness concerning our purification from our sins of the past (verse 9). We have a neighbor who suffers from Alzheimers disease. She does not remember who anyone is, including her husband. Perhaps even worse, she does not remember who she is. Forgetfulness is a terrible ailment. I think we would almost rather be offended by someone, especially our mate, than be forgotten by them.
In one sense, Christians are to forget the past. We should not be haunted by guilt, for those sins which have been forgiven. We are not to rest upon the laurels of past achievements but “press on for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). But we should never forget what we once were apart from Christ, and what we have now become, in Christ (see Ephesians 2:11-22). We are to rejoice in our redemption. We are to be constantly filled with gratitude. We are to remember that our sins have been forgiven.
Paul never forgot who he was and what God had done in his life, forgiving him of his sins and trans-forming him from a persecutor of the church to a preacher of the gospel:
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; 14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are [found] in Christ Jesus. 15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost[of all.] 16 And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, [be] honor and glory forever and ever. Amen (1 Timothy 1:12-17).
This message is being written on my computer which has several forms of “memory.” One form is known as “ram”—random access memory. This memory must be “refreshed” literally millions and millions of times, or it will be lost. When the power to the computer is turned off (or goes off in a thunderstorm), all “ram” memory is lost in a fraction of a second.
Our memory of spiritual things is just about as volatile and short-lived. This is why we are reminded so often in the Bible. How many times did Jesus repeat the same truths to His disciples? How many times in the Scriptures are we admonished not to forget what God has said and done? How many times are we encouraged to remember the great spiritual truths of the Bible?
Peter’s words indicate to us that the pursuit of holiness, as described in verses 5-7, is a divinely appointed means of keeping our memories refreshed, of preventing forgetfulness. When we cease to strive after holiness, we become forgetful of our forgiveness from our sins. A kind of spiritual Alzheimers disease sets in, and we become a different person than we once were when our spiritual memories were intact.
How does the pursuit of holiness refresh our memory? I think Paul tells us in Colossians 2:
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, [so] walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted [and now] being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, [and] overflowing with gratitude (Colossians 2:6-7).
The spiritual life should be pursued in the same way we were saved. Salvation is the way of the cross. Sanctification is likewise the way of the cross (see 1 Peter 1:17-21). Thus, we must “take up our cross daily” if we are to be our Lord’s disciples. To pursue holiness is to walk in the way of the cross, to die to self and to live out the life of Christ (see Romans 6:2-11; 1 Peter 2:18-25; 3:15-22; 4:1-2).
False teachers take forgetfulness to the extreme. They not only forget the Master and His redeeming work on Calvary, they deny Him (see 2 Peter 2:1, 20-22). But the individual of our 2 Peter 1:8-11 text is not one who doubts his salvation; he is one who so carelessly lives his life he does not even remember it. He goes about his daily life as though he were not saved, not a new creation, not a possessor of eternal life. His life thus becomes one centered about this world and what it has to offer (see 2 Timothy 4:10). Christians in this condition are indistinguishable from unbelievers, so far as their attitudes and actions can be judged by others.
Peter’s Exhortation and Assurances
With his introductory word “therefore,” Peter indicates that verses 10-11 flow out of the verses which precede them. The Christian not only seeks godliness, he shuns ungodliness (compare Romans 12:9). The Christian should therefore delight in Peter’s words in verses 8 and 9. We should all find the promise of avoiding uselessness and unfruitfulness, blindness or short-sightedness, and forgetfulness a great encouragement to the pursuit of holiness.
Peter’s exhortation is now put before the reader:
10a … be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you…
I must admit I am not excited about the way the translators of the NASB have rendered this exhortation. Consider the ways other translations have rendered this text:
Wherefore then rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure (KJV).
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure (NIV).
All the more then, my friends, exert yourselves to clinch God’s choice and calling of you (NEB).
Brothers, you have been called and chosen: work all the harder to justify it (Jerusalem Bible).
Set your minds, then, on endorsing by your conduct the fact that God has called and chosen you (J.B. Phillips).
Exert yourselves the more then, brothers, to confirm your calling and election (Berkeley).
So, dear brothers, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen (Living Bible).
To properly interpret verse 10, we must do several things. First, we must locate every biblical passage which employs the terms rendered “make certain about” in the NASB. From all these texts and various uses of these terms, we must decide what the options are for translating this term. We must consider these options in the light of biblical theology. Finally, from the immediate context of verse 10, along with the broader context of the previous verses, we must decide which of these options best conveys Peter’s meaning here.
The term Peter uses in verse 10, rendered “make certain about,” is also found in Romans 4:16; 2 Corinthians 1:7; Hebrews 2:2; 3:6, 14; 6:19; 9:17; and 2 Peter 1:19.
One of the most critical texts is Romans 4:16:
16 For this reason [it is] by faith, that [it might be] in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (Romans 4:16, emphasis mine).
In this text, Paul not only employs the term “certain,” he also uses it in such a way that we can tell what Peter cannot mean where he employs the same term. Paul writes that God has designed “it” (justification) to occur “by faith,” so that “the promise” (of justification or salvation) might be certain. In the context, Paul instructs us that if salvation were by our works, it would not be certain because it would depend on us. Justification by faith makes the promise of salvation—of the forgiveness of sins (see verses 7-8)—certain. We can therefore hardly suppose that Peter is now saying the opposite, namely, that we make our election and calling certain by our works, by working hard at the pursuit of holiness.
Now let us consider the other passages where the adjective40 “firm” or “certain” is employed:
7 And our hope for you is firmly grounded [“stedfast,” KJV], knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are [sharers] of our comfort (2 Corinthians 1:7, emphasis mine).
2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable [“stedfast,” KJV], and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2, emphasis mine).
6 But Christ [was faithful] as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end (Hebrews 3:6, emphasis mine).
14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm [“stedfast,” KJV] until the end (Hebrews 3:14, emphasis mine).
19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a [hope] both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil (Hebrews 6:19, emphasis mine).
17 For a covenant is valid [only] when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives (Hebrews 9:17, emphasis mine).
19 And [so] we have the prophetic word [made] more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19, emphasis mine).
From all the uses of this term in the Bible, it seems the expression refers either to setting something in motion—to activate or fix something securely—so it cannot be moved. A will is not activated—set in motion—until the death of the one who made the will (Hebrews 9:17). Christ set in motion the promises of the Old Testament prophets in such a way that they cannot be stopped (see Romans 4:16; 15:8). Paul’s hope for the Corinthians was firm; it was unshakable (2 Corinthians 1:7). The prophetic word has been made sure by the miraculous display of power which accompanied its origins (see Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:2, 3; 2 Peter 1:19) and thus we see that God’s promises are a solid foundation, something we can trust as sure and certain. Just as God does not change (see James 1:17), neither does His Word. We have “an anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19) which cannot be moved. We are therefore held fast and secure.
Peter is not urging us to “make certain about” our election and calling. Our election and calling are from God, and they are not reversible (see Romans 8:29-30; 11:29). On the one hand, the God who has called us will confirm us to the end:
4 I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:4-8).
On the other hand, we are not to be passive in our salvation and sanctification. We must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and receive the salvation God has provided through Him (see John 6:28-29; Acts 2:38; 16:31; Romans 10:8-15). Likewise, while faith is a gift from God (2 Peter 1:1), we must add to our faith through the provisions God has given to us (2 Peter 1:3-7).
I believe the exhortation in verse 10 is but an intensified repetition of that given in verses 5-7:
5a Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply … (2 Peter 1:5a).
10a Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure … (2 Peter 1:10a).
We are to continually strive to grow in our faith and in the godly qualities Peter spells out in verses 5-7. As we do so, we confirm, or establish, that which God began and which He is committed to establish in and through us. To make our calling and election sure is to make it stable. It is to set our lives on a course that cannot, and will not, be changed or moved away from the faith. It is to become so solid and stable that we will not be moved, especially by those who come to us with another gospel:
13 Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all [aspects] into Him, who is the head, [even] Christ (Ephesians 4:13-15).
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, [so] walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted [and now] being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, [and] overflowing with gratitude. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Colossians 2:6-8).
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not [in] vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).
6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel (Galatians 1:6).
6 But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind (James 1:6).
Peter buttresses his exhortation to pursue holiness by summing up the benefits in two contrasting promises. On the one hand, the pursuit of holiness gives us a stability, a steadfastness which keeps us from stumbling. Since Peter is writing to Christians here, I do not believe he is referring to a “fatal fall” which results in the loss of one’s salvation. I believe he is speaking of the kind of stumbling which results in being useless and unfruitful, but not complete destruction.
24 When he falls, he shall not be hurled headlong; Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand (Psalms 37:24).
14 The LORD sustains all who fall, And raises up all who are bowed down (Psalms 145:14).
16 For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in [time of] calamity (Proverbs 24:16).
The term “stumble” is used elsewhere in Romans 11:11 and James 2:10; 3:2 (twice). In these texts “stumble” seems to mean “to sin.”41 Peter surely knew what it meant to “stumble.” And so do we. But sinning is not inevitable. It is avoidable, by the pursuit of godliness in the power and provisions of God. When we cease to grow in Christian character and conduct, we set ourselves up for a fall.
If our diligence to make our calling and election sure keeps us from stumbling, it also promises us something very positive—it promises us an abundant entrance into the kingdom of God:
11 For in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you (2 Peter 1:11).
The Bible teaches that some Christians will enter into God’s kingdom by the proverbial “skin of their teeth:”
12 Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is [to be] revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
5 [I have decided] to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:5).
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep (1 Corinthians 11:28-30).
It is certainly possible for a Christian to live in such a way that God removes him from this life (1 Corinthians 5:5; 11:28-30). I do not think one would expect a “Well done, good and faithful servant!” upon his arrival in the presence of God. He will be saved, yet as by fire (1 Corinthians 3:15). For the Christian who pursues holiness, there is a far better entrance into the kingdom of God. It is an entrance we eagerly anticipate (see Philippians 1:19-23; 3:14; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10). It is an entrance abundantly supplied to us. This is the reward of diligently seeking to confirm our calling and election.
While God has ordained that we will be conformed to the image of His son (Romans 8:28-30), we are to be actively involved in this process. There is a sense in which the growth process involves the entire body of believers. Paul speaks of this corporate growth in Ephesians 4:11-16 and elsewhere in relation to the concept of spiritual gifts. But there is also a sense in which spiritual growth is a life-long personal endeavor, to be strenuously engaged in by every individual believer. This is what Peter urges us to do in our text.
Each individual believer is to pursue holiness, actively striving to manifest the “divine nature” in his or her life, not only because this is our destiny but because it is our duty. And we are to actively do so not only because of what it promises but also because of what it prevents.
The dangers Peter speaks of here are very real dangers for the Christian. Who should know better than Peter himself? These things can and do happen to Christians. They do happen when we fail to pursue holiness, as urged in verses 5-7. When we pursue spiritual growth through God’s provisions, we begin to manifest the “divine nature” of God. When we cease to grow, we stumble, and we become hardly distinguishable from the false teachers described later, or even rank pagans.
The promises of God are just as certain as the warnings and threats of the Word. The threats or the promises of Scripture are “made sure” by our acting, either in obedience to the commands or in disobedience. Our actions activate the promises or the threats. We avoid the sandtraps of life, as outlined here by Peter, by pursuing holiness—the characteristics of God which He has purposed to be ours. We may possess the promises by making use of what God has provided:
24 And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you; and more shall be given you besides. 25 For whoever has, to him shall [more] be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.” (Mark 4 NAS)
11 Concerning him we have much to say, and [it is] hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes [only] of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:11-14).
This text does not focus on doubt, but on faith and the proper aspirations and fears faith instills within the Christian. We are to remember what we once were and the redemption we have received in Christ. But we are not to be content with what we are now in Christ. We are to press on to a greater and more intimate knowledge of Christ and to a more complete obedience to His will and His Word.
Our motivation should be to become more like our Master and to fulfill the task for which we were chosen and called. Our confidence is in Him, in His character and His provisions for our growth, godliness, and final salvation. We labor and strive, not to earn our salvation but to demonstrate the salvation God has accomplished in Christ. Our dread should be in falling short of what God’s provisions have enabled us to become.
This text from the pen of Peter has caused me to think differently about what Paul has written to us in 1 Corinthians 10:
13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
I have always thought the “way of escape” was not evident until the time of crisis, and the escape was by some kind of divine intervention. Such “escapes” do take place occasionally, but we should not seek to force them by leaping from the pinnacle of some temple, as Satan sought to tempt our Lord, thereby forcing the Father to come to His rescue (see Matthew 4:5-7). I have heard Christians say, “If God doesn’t want me to do this, He will stop me.” The problem is that what they are doing is biblically wrong. They should turn from sin rather than expect God to rescue them from it.
Peter’s words, found in 2 Peter 1:5-11, are God’s “way of escape.” We do not have to enter into temptation. We should desire to stay as far from temptation as possible (see Matthew 6:13). The pursuit of godly character—the pursuit of holiness—as Peter has described it in these first 11 verses of his second epistle, is God’s primary means of escape. Growth in godliness keeps us from sin.
I would like to ask you two simple questions as we conclude this text.
First, have you been born again? If you have not been born again, then you do not have life in Jesus Christ, and thus you cannot expect to grow spiritually. Peter is writing to those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. If you have not yet trusted in Him for the forgiveness of your sins, then there is no need for you to think about growth. Peter urges us to add to the faith which God has given to us (verse 5). I urge you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved from your sins.
Second, I must ask you who are Christians, are you really growing? Christianity is not like civil service— the more time you spend, the better it is assumed you are at your job and thus the more you can expect to be paid. Christians do not grow automatically. Growth and maturity are not merely matters of time. No, spiritual growth and maturity are matters of disciplined, diligent effort, of discipleship. If you are not growing in Christian character, then you are becoming blind and forgetful and unfruitful. You are setting yourself up for a fall. Each of us should take these words of Peter to heart, and seek to obey them by God’s grace and to His glory.
Let these qualities be ours and increase so that we may be useful and fruitful, not blind or short sighted, forgetting our purification from former sins, but making certain of His calling and choosing, for as long as we practice these things we will never stumble, and in this way, our entrance into the eternal kingdom will be supplied to us. To God be the glory, great things He has done!
37 Some seek to explain this master’s sentence of judgment as the “loss of rewards” which results in “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I understand this to refer to hell and its eternal torment. This slave was not a true believer, which is evident by his conduct. His “one talent” seems to have been the gospel, which he did not embrace by faith. Thus, to fail to make use of the gospel was, for him, sufficient cause for eternal torment.
38 Once again, as with the “wicked, lazy slave” in Matthew 25:24-30, I understand the fig tree to represent the unbelieving Jews of Israel. They made profession of holiness, but they surely did not manifest its fruits, and thus they were worthy of divine wrath.
39 I understand “blindness” or “short-sightedness” to be virtually synonymous terms. To be spiritually blind is to see only physically and only in terms of this life. We do not view this life in the light of eternity. Next Peter will show that we not only fail to see ahead, we also forget the forgiveness of sins we have experienced in the past.
41 “Literally the verb means ‘stumble’, ‘trip’, and so comes to mean ‘sin’ (so Jas. ii. 10; iii. 2).” J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1969), p. 309.