Living with Truth

2nd Peter

Introduction: When military troops are in hostile territory; they have not been sent without a determination that their efforts will be successful, without sufficient supplies and power, or without a clearly stated purpose.  The achievement of these goals will be accomplished by the faithful fulfillment of a number of intermittent goals along the way as the supplies and plans are implemented as they go. Called out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of his Love, we are now living in hostile territory, but we are not without provisions or purpose. We have the provisions of grace and truth. The purpose and the plans of men may fail through lack of sufficient foresight, lack of effective execution, or an underestimation of the extent of power that was needed. God lacks none of these. His purpose is perfect, the means he has deployed to effect it are exactly proportioned to the task, and the power involved at each stage of the plan is “according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the death and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:20, 21).

I. The Initiation, aggressiveness, and Power of God

Peter as an apostle and servant immediately appointed by Jesus Christ writes with the authority given the apostles to warn against both false teaching and false living. This probably is written very close to the time of his death (1:12-14).

A. “received (or obtained) a faith” (1) Several points identify this faith that they have received.

  1. The faith they have received is not qualitatively different from that of the apostles. That which constitutes New Testament faith is the same for every believer—“of equal standing with ours.”
  2. Faith constitutes the body of revealed truth that Peter expounds and defends throughout this epistle. Frequently in the New Testament it is called “the faith” (e.g. Jude 3; Titus 1:1; 1 Timothy 6:21; 2 Timothy 4:7).
  3. Faith also is that grace-induced submission to Christ and his righteousness that is the natural expression of having seen the glory of Christ, tasted the goodness of God and having been captured by the word of truth in Scripture. Faith is thus, the “substance of things hoped for and the evidence, or conviction, of things not seen” by the physical eye but seen in the soul (Hebrews 11:1).

B. By the righteousness of our God and Savior

  1. Here Peter shows that every grace contained in the body of truth and every grace by which we are drawn to embrace it has been obtained by the “righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” His obedience to death as our substitute has opened the floodgates of heaven on those to whom he reconciled God. Compare “He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32 in context). God has given his people all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3)
  2. Note emphasis on righteousness throughout this epistle: 2:5; 2:8, 9; 2:15 [“unrighteousness”]; 2:21; 3:13

C. (2) Those blessings peculiar to redemption, grace and peace, increase in their effect and intensity as our knowledge of “God and of Jesus our Lord.” This kind of phrase attends the idea of the pre-mundane covenant of redemption that involved the Father’s sending of the Son to be the mediator of salvation. See Titus 1:1-4, where Paul speaks of the ”faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness.” He closes his salutation to Titus with the words, “Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus or Savior” (1:4). Because of this commonly owned covenant in the triune God, Paul can, in the third chapter, call God the Father, “our Savior,” and then proceed to give expression to the work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ “our Savior” in the merciful covenantal arrangement for redemption.

D. His divine power has granted (3) – In the execution of his covenant to save, God manifests the power that is necessary to grant all things consistent with the purpose. This is not according to our power or dependent finally on our response as the final determining cause. Our response is indeed just that, a response to the operation of his power manifest in ways consistent with the purpose of rescuing us from the condemnation as well as the corrosive and finally destructive effects of sin. What are these grace gifts?

  1. All that pertains to life and godliness – nothing is omitted; Christ does not become Lord in our lives subsequent to his becoming Savior. No, he brings his lordship with him as he intercedes for those for whom he shed his blood and conquers them by his grace.
  2. Through the knowledge of him – Because of the results, we must conclude that this is a transforming knowledge, unlike the knowledge of 2:20. The knowledge of Christ may be one of two kinds: notional or transforming knowledge. Within these categories there also is both quality and quantity.
  • Notional – Many in Scripture have had a historical, factual knowledge of God and of Christ that was not of a saving nature. They knew many facts, heard many testimonies (John 9: 30-34) saw many convincing proofs but maintained a hard unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12).
    • Quantity – The sons of Eli had such notional knowledge of God, the law, the functions of the priesthood etc. Their knowledge amounted to items of information in the brain that they turned to their own temporal advantage (1 Samuel 2:12-17) but it was merely head knowledge. Even more of the knowledge of God and of the spotless character of the Messiah did Judas possess, but his assumptions about what he wanted in the Christ did not coincide with the ministry of Jesus. Even knowing that Jesus was innocent, he, being a son of “lostness” (John 17:12), betrayed him for material advantage. The amount of such knowledge extends from the light of nature (Romans 1:19, 20) to the observation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the age of gospel preaching (Hebrews 4:1, 2; 6:4-6; 10:26-29). In Simon Magus, Peter had seen the operation of a carnal response to truth and the external operations of the Spirit (Acts 8:12-17)
    • Quality – This has to do with the nature of one’s response to the revelation he has. Notional understanding may produce a moral lifestyle through which one seeks social balance and respectability or even is deluded into believing he will be accepted by God for his relative goodness. It may produce a repression of the knowledge accompanied by unconcern for eternal things in any sense. Also some respond with active hostility to the claims of absoluteness and exclusivity explicitly embedded in the gospel message. None of these responses, differing even as they do, expresses the altered sensibility intrinsic to regeneration.
  • Transforming – This knowledge includes both accurately understood truths of divine revelation and their internally active converting power.
    • Quantity – Transforming knowledge comes in a variety of quantities from the belief of Eve in Genesis 4:1, 25 to the belief of Saul the persecutor as implied in Galatians 1:13-16 and in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6;12:1-6. All the New Testament saints had more, a greater quantity, of revealed truth in its intrinsic transforming power than any of the Old Testament saints (Luke 7:28). Even at that, Hebrews 11 records names and events that show that whether it is little faith or great faith, the quality of saving faith fastens a person to the hope that is in Christ.
    • Quality – Though differing degrees of truth and grace operate in all saints, its quality always is the same. See the comment on verse 1 above. The knowledge that comes into the soul as a result of the saving call of God is qualitatively distinct from the greatest amount of knowledge that may be attained through mere natural intellect and talent or even external operations and gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 13:2). It changes both the character and the direction of the affections toward holiness and love. This transforming knowledge is described in the next phrase.
  1. Who has called us to [or by] his own glory and excellence. The call either to or by his own glory and excellence assumes that the one called will have moral inclination toward that glory and excellence. Thus, this call witnesses to the transformed heart as necessary for the attraction of such a call. This call, therefore, comes from the choice of God. According to verse 10, one gives certainty to his election by giving evidence of his calling.

E. He has granted to us his magnificent promises. Primarily, Peter refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit himself, through whom the distinctive gifts of both salvation and church life are bestowed. “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:33). As Christ in his person completed the objective work necessary for salvation, so the Holy Spirit himself is the fullness of all the blessings granted to the people of God. In regeneration, the Spirit is life; in sanctification, the Spirit is holiness; in granting gifts the Spirit imparts himself in utterance, service, generosity, love for enemies, and love for the brother.

F. Entrance abundantly supplied (Verse 11) – Note that this abundant, or rich, entrance into the eternal kingdom is, indeed, provided, or given from the bounteous grace of God. Its richness consists of possessing those things that had come to constitute our treasure here on earth, those beautiful qualities listed in symmetrical relation in verses 5-7. When that which is prized most highly becomes ours in infinite measure and with an immutable constancy, it is impossible to conceive of a more abundant and pleasing, even ravishing, provision.


II. Employing the Divine Supply of Kingdom qualities (Verses 5-7)

“For this very reason,” hearkens back to powerful operation of grace denoted in the words, “Having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desires.” Sin always operates as a destructive power in this world. You have escaped that relentless assault upon the character of God himself and the image of God in you; unpack and wield, therefore, those divine supplies. It will call for all your energy—“be diligent,” “make haste,” “make every effort,’ “giving all diligence” choreograph the spiritual realities supplied to you.

A. Those things that fit us for the presence of God

  1. The first three mentioned serve as the foundation of spiritual development, and indicate an internal coherence of interdependent qualities. While true faith will express itself in virtue, or moral excellence, it does so because moral excellence (or love for God) has already been spread abroad in the heart (Romans 5:5) by the Spirit. An element of increasing in virtue is increase in the knowledge of God, but both faith and moral excellence assume an accompanying, or even prior, presence of knowledge. One must have knowledge of the law, thus sin, the character and sacrifice of Christ, and the imperative to repent prior to exhibiting trust in God to do through Christ what is promised in him.
  2. Resident within faith and its vital connections are effectual tendencies toward personal transformation—self-control, perseverance, godliness. Self-cntrol means that progress is made in the personal battle with “all that is in the world” (1 John 2:15-17). Perseverance, or steadfastness, means that this battle to mortify the flesh (Romans 8:13, 14) will endure throughout life, our contest with indwelling sin and the flaming darts of Satan will never cease. Godliness means that, in the context of this personal spiritual warfare, conformity to God’s character and purpose for us will be increasingly prominent in our personal lives and social relations.
  3. That introduces the third category of spiritual virtues, their social manifestation. Brotherly kindness points out how one redeemed person responds to the likeness he sees in another redeemed person. Those manifestations of grace, love to God, worship of Christ, and yearning for the Spirit naturally create mutual kindness and friendship among fellow-believers. This is not self-love, but is a true affection for others that is rooted in love from God and consequent love for God. [1 Peter 1:8, 22; 1 John 4:7,10, 19]
  4. NOTE: at every level each of these serves as an indicator that the other also is present; cf. James 2:22 “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.” Works will not come without faith, but faith always will work itself out into works reflective of trust in and love for God. Likewise we find James’s exploration of this in James 3:13 profound, intricate, and spiritually provocative: “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.”

B. These virtues give honor to Christ. Their presence in increasing measure establish the difference between mere notional knowledge and transforming knowledge. When Paul wrote (Philippians 3:8, 10) of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” set forth his desire for increased knowledge—“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, etc.”—he gave voice to the true spiritual knowledge in every Christian. Precisely in the increase of these implanted spiritual qualities are we kept from being “ineffective or unfruitful in the [true saving] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In 2:20, 21 the concept of knowledge is used three times as ineffectual notional knowledge and in 3:18 as the increase of effectual transforming knowledge.


III. The certification of God’s People.

This text provides a rather full description of how we recognize God’s people and how they may find personal assurance of their true knowledge of God.

A. The goal for God’s people is disclosed. He grants to them “life and godliness” (3) so that they become partakers [sharers] in the divine nature, not essential deification, but a decisive though gradual restoration of the image of God by the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In so indwelling the saints (of any epoch of history) the Spirit’s immediate action on the soul and his assertion of control over the flesh, commensurate with the knowledge of God available in the progress of revealed truth, establishes this development. The final goal is “entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (11).

B. Assurance of being among the elect of God is bound up in the evidences of the effectuality of God’s call (10). If Peter’s detailed description of God’s call by and to glory and excellence rings true to the mind and heart, one may conclude that he or she is embraced in the eternal purpose of salvation, God’s election.

C. Means: God’s call built on his electing purpose always involves coming to knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2, 3). If there is no knowledge of God’s saving act in Christ, then no salvation can come. Knowledge of Christ in his gospel, lovingly embraced, is a strong evidence of election. When the consequence of this knowledge is personal diligence in those things of the nature of the eternal kingdom, and a continuance in such diligence, the evidence of one’s election becomes “sure,” that is clarified and ascertained by accompanying evidences consistent with the character of the thing proved. See verse 19 for a similar use of this root word as it relates to progressive revelation.

D. The passage sets alternatives before all people in general, but particularly before those who have heard the gospel.

  1. A person may remain in the corruption brought about in the fall or enter into the incorruption that is promised in redemption.
  2. Verse 9 anticipates a long discussion in chapter 2. If one remains in the path of corruption, though professing faith in Christ, he is in a state of temporary shortsightedness inconsistent with a true knowledge of forgiveness of sins. Not to pursue spiritual virtues clearly is inconsistent with an awareness of the cost and character of the forgiveness of sins. Should this condition remain, then the person manifests spiritual blindness and can be described in terms of 2:20-22.
  3. Failure in pursuit of these qualities gives evidence that nothing pertaining to “life and godliness” has been granted you, that you have not been called by his glory and excellence, and that you have not received his great and precious promises. That person will falter, stumble, and fall (Verse 10). Alternatively, the path of gracious holiness leads to an abundant entrance into the kingdom (11).


IV. Application

A. Do you have a personal knowledge of the source of your faith?

B. Is Love for the Lord Jesus foundational to all your actions? Is there at least a constant conscious awareness of the necessity of such conformity?

C. By what have you been called and to what? His own glory and excellence?

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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