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Sermon preached on 2 Peter 1:1-15 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 01/22/2023 in Petaluma, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
How can we know if we are truly saved? Behind that question is an important doctrine, the doctrine of election or predestination. The Bible teaches that when someone becomes a Christian that it is ultimately because God had chosen to save them, that God had predestined them or elected them from eternity. So to ask, “How can I know if I’m saved,” is to ask, “How can I know that I am one of God’s elect, one of the ones he’s chosen to save?” Today’s passage addresses that question.
Now when talking about this doctrine of election or predestination, people often have different misunderstandings about it. It is one of the more complex teachings of Scripture. One common misunderstanding is to think that it does away with man’s responsibility. Some incorrectly misunderstand to think we are saying it doesn’t really matter what we do or not, it just matters if God has elected us. But that is not correct. Rather, the Bible teaches both God’s sovereignty in our salvation and man’s responsibility. While it is true that no one will come to have faith in Jesus apart from God’s intervening work in their heart, it is also true that no human will be saved apart from exercising faith in Jesus. While there is a degree of mystery in relating God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, there is much we can understand about this as God’s word reveals it to us. This passage is one of several that helps us to think about the relationship. While God’s sovereignty is ultimate and overarching compared to man’s responsibility, there is an important place for both. They are compatible, and this passage explains some of that.
So then, we’ll consider this question today, “How can I know if I am one of God’s elect?” We will consider it in three points today, working on this passage from the outside to the inside. We’ll look first at verses 1-4 to consider our calling and election in general. Then we’ll look at verses 8-15 about the value of confirming our calling and election. Then lastly we’ll delve into the middle of the passage to consider verses 5-7 which are at the heart of man’s responsibility of how we are to seek to supplement our faith with the various qualities mentioned.
So then, we begin in verses 1-4 to think of our calling and election in general. These verses speak of the salvation that Christians have been elected and called unto, that it is one of grace through faith, as a result of the monergistic work of God in our lives which is an outworking of his sovereign calling and election. Let me walk you through the verses so you see this.
Verse 1 begins by highlighting that faith is something God gives us according to his choice. Peter says there he is an apostle of Jesus Christ writing, “to those who have obtained a faith… by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ”. That word translated as “obtained” is actually a very colorful Greek word about receiving something by the casting of lots, with the idea that it is the divine will behind what is selected by the casting of the lots, that God has determined it. In other words, verse 1 hits home on the idea of election right away with using a rather colorful word to describe that how if we have faith it is because God has divinely chosen us out of many to have such faith. You don’t believe in order to become one of God’s elect, you believe because you have been elected.
So then, verse 2 goes on to speak of grace and peace being multiplied. When we think of our calling and election unto salvation, we affirm that it is by grace through and through. It is grace that brings us to faith. And we look for more and more grace throughout our Christian life. To emphasize grace is to deemphasize works. Yes, there is a place for works in the Christian life. This passage speaks of works we should seek to be doing. But we don’t work in order to earn grace, otherwise it wouldn’t be grace. No, we need God’s grace multiplied unto us in order to be growing in our good works. That is why Peter prays it for us here.
Verse 3 then speaks of how it is God’s divine power that is behind our salvation. It says that his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. When we think of our salvation, we think of how we are saved unto eternal life, which ultimately will be a life where we are perfected in godliness. That life and godliness has its beginning when we first become a Christian. We call that beginning being “born again.” That’s how Peter began his first letter in 1 Peter 1:3, saying that we have been born again to a living hope. So, a Christian’s experience of salvation begins by their being born again. How is someone born again? Verse 3 says here it is by the power of God at work in them. This is what we refer to as monergism. This is the most technical usage of that word monergism. Monergism refers to how the regeneration of our soul happens not by some combined activity of God and man, but by the sole work of God in our hearts. He works new birth in us, and that is the beginning of a new life that he will support and grow by his continued gracious work in our life. This is intimately related to the idea of election, because he only works like this monergistically in the elect. Verse 3 then goes on to put this in terms explicitly of calling. It says he has called us to his glory and excellence. So, verse 3 speaks of how the monergistic work of God to make us born again is behind the calling we have unto salvation. This also tells us that the calling that Peter is talking about in today’s passage is not a mere external calling, but an effectual calling. All who are so called are those God works in their life unto salvation.
Verse 4 finishes off talking about our calling and election by speaking in terms of precious promises that he has granted or gifted to us. For them to be granted or gifted to us is to again see God’s grace behind all this. Our salvation is not something anyone earns, rather it is God’s gift to those whom he chooses to give it. Verse 4 describes what that gift entails in two related ways. One, we become partakers of the divine nature. Two, we are escaping from this corrupt world that is corrupt because of all its sinful desires. In other words, our salvation is so much more than just forgiveness of sins and knowing that we will enjoy eternal life and not eternal damnation. But salvation especially includes how God is having us participate in his own divine nature so that we are being changed from fallen humans with sinful passions to have natures that are fitting for those whom he calls children of God. When it says that we have come to partake of the divine nature, remember how he has put the Holy Spirit in our hearts. The Spirit is renovating our souls so that we are becoming godly people.
So then, we’ve seen these opening verses speak of the calling and election that Christians have. Let us now turn in our second point to consider the value in looking to confirm our calling and election, as we see described in verses 8-15. Start in verse 10, where we see this idea of confirming our calling and election. The language there of confirm is legalese in the Greek. It’s about validating the legal validity of something. When thinking about election, we recognize that God hasn’t published the list of elect for us to check to see if we are on the list. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have assurance that we are actually the elect who are effectually called unto salvation. Verse 10 tells us that in fact this is an assurance we can and should pursue. Basically, he points us to these seven items that he mentions in verses 5-7 to look to supplement to our faith, namely, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. He is drawing a connection between looking to add these qualities to our faith with being able to confirm that we really are elect and called.
Go back to verse 5 to further see the connection here. In verse 5, he says, “for this reason.” For this reason, look to add these good things to your faith. What reason is he talking about there? What we just studied in verses 1-4 about calling and election. Because he has elected you and called you, therefore, look to add to your faith these other qualities. Verse 3 helps make the connection. Verse 3 mentions 3 qualities that God calling is calling us to that are then in the list of things in verses 5-7 that we are to look to add to our faith. Specifically, verse 3 mentions godliness, knowledge, and excellence which is the same Greek word for virtue. So verses 1-4 says that God’s elected and called us unto a future where we will be perfected in things like godliness, knowledge, and excellence. Therefore, look here and now to add to your faith things godliness, knowledge, and excellence.
See the connection? He’s saying that we can confirm our calling and election by looking to appropriate the things he has promised us as those called and elected. Let me give you an Old Testament example. In 2 Samuel 7, God promised King David he would raise up the Messiah through David’s lineage and thus establish David’s kingdom forever. David then turns around and prays for that very thing, and says to God that he was only so bold to ask for such a thing because God had promised it. So then, if you believe that God has called and elected you unto salvation, that includes God’s sanctifying work in your life to bring forth good works in your life, then if you by faith look to live forth good works, that should be an act of faith in the calling and election of God. As you then see God actually so growing you in such things, it’s a confirmation of his calling and election in your life. So then, to look to add such good qualities to your faith is not to pursue salvation by works, but it is to say that you believe God is going to sanctify you so you seek to come into the very things he says he will bring into you.
Along these lines, notice that when he gives us the list of things in verses 5-7 to look to add to our faith, that he is presupposing the existence of faith. That’s because he is writing to people who in verse 1 are already professing faith. So, that is always the starting point in terms of assurance. How can you know that you are the elect and effectually called? First and foremost, do you have faith? If you see that you have a true faith that rests in Jesus for salvation, that is evidence of your election. But then he goes on to say that as you look to add to your faith these other qualities, it will be further confirmation to you that you are indeed the elect of God. Because these other good things are what he has called you unto, and so as you pursue them in faith, you are observing God’s work in bringing them forth in your life.
This correlation between God’s work and our work is also in view through a repetition of words that is lost in many translations. The word for “supplement” in verse 5 is also the same word for “provided” in verse 11. It’s another colorful Greek word, describing a financial benefactor, especially in theatre. Such a benefactor would provide for the means for the actors for a play. So, a translation of “supply” or “furnish” might be especially helpful here. So, in verse 5, this is to speak of how we are to seek to “supply” these good qualities in our life. But then in verse 11, it speaks of how God will “supply” us an entrance into glory. The idea being that as we in faith look to supply our lives with such godly traits, it is an outworking of the bigger calling of God who is actually the one behind the scenes supplying for our ultimate entrance into glory. And he would have us to make such an entrance by a life of sanctification now. So then, the repeated words here about being such a supplier or furnisher is to again coordinate God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility and have a chance to consider both in relation to each other.
So then, the last thought to point out on the idea of confirming our calling and election is that this can work in reverse too. Verse 8 speaks of people who don’t have these seven godly qualities, and how such people are useless and unfruitful. Verse 9 goes on to describe such people as spiritually nearsighted and thus effectively blind. The nearsighted sense is that they are only seeing what is up close in their lives, and not seeing any more all their past history of sin that they were forgiven of. Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to forgive us of our past sins so we could continue on unchanged in a life of continued sin. No, he died on the cross for sin because he ultimately desires us to not be sinners anymore. One who has truly been born again realizes that God has called him to righteousness and in faith begins to try to pursue that. And so, its like James says in his letter, faith without works is dead. If you claim to have faith but these are not godly qualities that you are looking to furnish in your life, then have you really had even faith? Or are you just some Christian-in-name-only who is described here as worthless; someone who has never truly tasted of the life-changing power of God?
But Peter has a better hope for the people that he is writing to, as he says in verses 12-14. He instead is writing these things in order to stir them up, so they would be growing in Christ in line with their calling and election. And in so doing, they will be blessed with an increasing measure of their assurance of salvation. This is something Peter wants for them, and therefore for us. It is something God wants for us to have.
Let us now at last turn briefly in our third point to actually consider the list of godly qualities commended in verses 5-7. It’s been pointed out that the list begins with faith and ends with love. So then, let me walk us through each so we can be thinking about these things we should be looking to supply to our Christian faith and life.
The first quality to add to our faith, it says, is virtue, which speaks of moral excellence, that we do all things well and proper. Since verse 3 spoke of this in terms of God’s excellence, we know that God possesses all his good qualities in perfection, so we are reminded to strive as his image bearers to reflect his perfections even in our own finite capacity.
The second quality is knowledge. This refers to what can be known, generally through things that are learned. It would include an academic knowledge but also can have experiential and relational senses; like knowing God’s righteousness in the sense of knowing it through living it out; and like knowing God relationally, like how we have a personal relationship with God and we are cultivating that relationship.
The third quality is self-control. This is the virtue of one who has mastery over himself, controlling his desires and passions, instead of them controlling him. Verse 4 said our calling included to escape from this world that is ruled by sinful desires, and so in light of that we are to seek to master our desires and not give into the sin that characterizes the world.
The fourth quality is steadfastness. This is about endurance and patience as a Christian as we live in a world that is full of troubles and trials. Behind this is our hope, that while this world is something we must yet endure, we know that we will not always have to suffer it. So, we wait on the Lord to come and we look to wait well in the fortitude of steadfastness.
The fifth is godliness. This is a general word for having a manner of life characterized by reverence toward God and respect for the beliefs and practices related to him. You could translate this even as religious or pious. This would include practices that are common Christian disciplines like attending church, praying, reading the Bible, going to Bible studies and prayer meetings, things of that sort. People whose faith and religion is lived out for others to see not just virtue, but godly virtue, virtue done in the name of serving God.
The sixth is brotherly affection. I would note that this one and the last one are both Greek words for love, but this one is philadelphia which is brotherly love. Originally, this referred to the kind of love you had among family, but in Christian usage became used to describe the kind of love you have for your fellow church members where you care for them like family because that is what they spiritually are to you. So this speaks to how Christians are to love one another in the church in a special way.
So then the last is love, the Greek word agape. This is that charitable, unconditional love that we are to show others, and surely the highest of Christian virtues, since Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 13:13. It is also such an overarching quality, because remember that the entirety of God’s law can be summarized with two commands, to love God with all that you are and to love your neighbor as yourself.
In conclusion, let us see that these are qualities to seek after. We are to be diligently making every effort to grow in these things. While much could be said about how to go about growing in such things, let me point you back to the ordinary means of grace. God has given his word, and prayer, and the sacraments, with all the ministry and fellowship of the church with its various members to be aiding us in our pursuit of these things. And as we see ourselves growing, may we rejoice knowing that our names are written in heaven.
Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.