Certain of His Calling 2 Peter 1:1–11
My teenage daughter loves to look at clothes catalogues. The designers of the catalogues know this, because everything and everyone in those catalogues look fantastic. The implication is that if you wear this outfit, you too will look this great and happy. But when you actually order something, which we have done on occasion, the product often does not measure up to the picture of perfection in the catalogue. It is a case of the reality not fulfilling the promise.
This can also be true in the realm of spiritual truth. Many people claim to have the truth. But deciding between various claims of spiritual truth is more difficult than choosing clothes. How do you know if a person really knows God and is teaching spiritual truth? For that matter, how does anyone know if he or she knows God and is on the right spiritual path?
Peter, in his second epistle, wrote to Christians who had been challenged by pagan intellectuals about the truths of the Christian faith. These pagans claimed to have greater spiritual insight and a better grasp of spiritual truth than the Christians. Peter encouraged his readers not to be deceived by this false spirituality and showed them how to discern true spirituality from its counterfeit. At the same time, he was concerned that his readers be sure that, in their own lives, they had not bought into pagan concepts of spirituality that were contrary to Christian teaching. He exhorted them to be sure the godly character of their own lives demonstrated the fact that God lived in them, for this is how people can tell the genuine from the counterfeit.
The Recipients of His Calling (v. 1)
It is not clear where the recipients of Peter’s second epistle lived or who they were, although it seems clear that they were predominantly Gentile Christians. This is emphasized in the first verse, where Peter stated that his readers had “obtained like precious faith with us,” meaning that a pagan who comes to Christ is no less a participant in the New Covenant than a Jewish believer. Thus, Peter was really addressing all believers. We sometimes forget that while Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, the Lord used Peter to open the door to the Gentiles and to convince the church that Gentiles were equally saved by grace through faith (Acts 15:9, 11).
This equality is due to the “righteousness [fairness, justice] of God and our Savior, Jesus Christ” (v. 1), which God desires Gentiles to share in the inheritance of Israel. Peter indicated here, through the use of a single Greek article, that Jesus Christ is both God and Savior. One of the striking aspects of the New Testament is the ease with which good, Old Testament, believing Jews affirmed that the man Jesus is God. Peter also indicated this truth through recurring versions of the phrase “our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (1:11, 16; 2:20; 3:2, 18), where “Lord” (Gr., kyrios) is equivalent to the name of God, YHWH.
The Purpose of His Calling (vv. 2–4)
In Peter’s greeting in verse 2, he used the key word of his letter: “knowledge” (Gr., epignosis). This letter was written to help believers discern those who have true spiritual knowledge from those who do not. Peter contends that only those who have “the knowledge of God, and of Jesus, our Lord”—a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ—have true knowledge. All other types of knowledge are spiritually fraudulent.
God has granted two gifts to those who know Him: His divine power and His promises. God’s divine power enables believers to live godly lives. Dr. John Walvoord, former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, used to tell the students that the Christian life was impossible. He meant that without God, and in our own strength, the Christian life was impossible. The Christian life can only be lived through the power of God. In addition to this, God has granted believers His “exceedingly great and precious promises” (v. 4). God’s Old Testament promises concerning the coming of the Messiah and His bringing the salvation of God to the world have been initially fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The purpose of this gift for believers today is that through becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (v. 4), they may escape the corruption that is in the world. This does not mean that believers are now divine beings or that they are sinless. It does, however, picture the reality of the new birth (cp. 1 Pet. 1:22–25). Believers are now new people in that they have a new nature, born of God, and God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, lives in them. The result is that believers escape the moral and ultimately the physical corruption of the world.
Thus, to those whom God has called He has given the gift of His power, through which His children can live godly lives. This is something false teachers cannot claim or produce.
The Result of His Calling (vv. 5–9)
So that his readers would not be confused about what constitutes godly character, Peter listed eight virtues of godliness, beginning with “faith” and ending with “love.” While there may be a sense of progression from virtue to virtue, believers are to exhibit something of each virtue in their lives at all times. The key exhortation is in verse 5, where believers are commanded to give “all diligence, add to your faith….” Thus, the fact that believers are children of God does not mean that they will automatically live holy lives. They must want to live righteously and make godliness the focus of their lives. Paul said that believers can “work out” their salvation because God “worketh in” them (Phil. 2:12–13). Christian character always proceeds from the inside to the outside. God living within will produce godly character without.
Peter instructed his readers that to their faith (cp. v. 1) they should add “virtue.” While believers are not perfect, they are to demonstrate high moral character, especially in comparison to the world. To this, the readers were to add “knowledge” (Gr., gnosis). This does not mean factual knowledge as much as the wisdom of discerning God’s will in ethical decisions, which is based on the true knowledge of Jesus Christ (v. 3). To knowledge they were to add “patience.” Christians should continue to live godly lives despite persecution and sorrow, waiting patiently for the return of the Lord (1 Pet. 3:14–18). To patience they were to add “godliness.” True Christians are to devote their lives to honoring and serving Jesus Christ. To godliness they were to add “brotherly kindness” (Gr., philadelphia). Believers are to love and care for other believers, as opposed to the world, which hates them. Finally, they were to add to brotherly kindness “love” (Gr., agape). They are to exhibit to everyone the character of God Himself, the self-sacrificing kind of love that comes only from God and was shown to us in Jesus’ death on the cross for the sins of the world.
When believers exhibit these characteristics, they are both useful and fruitful “in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8). While we often rightly conceive of the Christian life as the means to demonstrate the power of the gospel to the world, here the point is that godly living deepens our relationship with Jesus Christ (cp. Phil. 3:8). The motivation for godly living is based on our relationship with Jesus. We seek to live godly lives because we want to please Him and know Him better.
Peter then said that a believer who does not exhibit these characteristics is “blind and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (v. 9). “Cannot see afar off” can refer to people who cannot see because they have their eyes shut (i.e., they do not want to see). Speaking metaphorically, Peter was saying that believers who are not spiritually maturing as they should must have their eyes opened regarding the responsibility of being in relationship with Jesus Christ. Being chosen by God and purified from sin does not mean that believers can live any way they please. Paul said that believers are now “servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18). It is totally incongruent that a person who claims to know Jesus Christ personally would live a pagan lifestyle.
Peter told his readers that those who are truly in relationship with Jesus Christ will, through God’s power, make an effort to live godly lives and exhibit God’s character through His power, which is in them. Thus, when people claim to know God, you can tell which ones truly know Him by how they live.
Making Certain of His Calling (vv. 10–11)
Peter summarized these verses by exhorting his readers to “give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (v. 10). Here he combined two aspects of salvation that are difficult for us to unite. They are the truths that God has sovereignly chosen and elected individuals to be saved totally on the basis of His grace, and that those individuals chosen for salvation must confirm their call through holy living. To make this an issue between faith and works is to misunderstand the nature of salvation. Peter, as does John, views salvation in terms of a spiritual conception, birth, and maturing process—the supernatural natural growth of a child of God. John said, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God”
(1 Jn. 3:9). Neither John nor Peter taught sinless perfection. Rather, they taught that people who confess to be in personal relationship with God will demonstrate that reality by exhibiting God’s character in their lives. Paul called this “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22ff). That is how we can tell genuine believers from false teachers—by their teaching and their lives. Peter further stated that believers who practice the qualities mentioned in verses 5–7 “shall never fall” (v. 10). Again, this does not mean they will never sin, but that they won’t fall away from the faith. True believers will always be part of God’s family because they are God’s children. Those who apostatize demonstrate that they were never really a part of God’s family.
Believers can confirm to themselves and to others that they are truly born of God by exhibiting godly characteristics in their lives. Conversely, those who claim to know God but live a pagan lifestyle must examine themselves to see if they are of the truth. If believers are exhibiting the characteristics of God in their lives, they can be certain that they are truly of God and that a glorious future awaits them.
Peter was concerned that his readers not be led astray by false teachers and false teaching (i.e., those who claim to know God but really do not). Peter’s readers, on the other hand, have the true knowledge of Jesus Christ, which means that God lives in them, and they therefore can and ultimately will escape the corruption of the world. To deepen their relationship with Jesus, Peter exhorted his readers to make an effort to exhibit the qualities of the Lord Jesus Christ in their lives. This will not only confirm to believers their calling in Christ, which looks forward to eternal glory, but it will keep them from falling away from the truth. In this way, believers can be sure that they truly know God, as opposed to those who claim to know the true God but who, in reality, do not.