Satan constantly tries to undermine the truth regarding the way of salvation. He often tries to convince sinners that they must make some contribution to their salvation, thus obscuring the truth that salvation is God’s sovereign work. At other times encourages the belief that a person can claim to be saved without his life being any different from those in the world around. Both errors are dealt with in 2 Peter 1:3-11 Calling and election.
1. An effectual call
Peter begins his comprehensive view of the Christian life by looking back to what God has done for believers: he ‘has given us everything we need for life and godliness’ (v3). The Lord has provided everything necessary for the fulness of life and growth in holiness. Salvation is described in rich terms: that ‘you may participate in the divine nature’ – not some mystical experience, but sharing in the perfections of God, such as holiness, truth and love. The work of forming these characteristics in believers has begun. The definitive change has taken place: ‘we ‘escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires’ (v4). Again knowledge is prominent (v3) – not mere head knowledge, but living knowledge that leads to trust and commitment. The emphasis is on God’s initiative – he #called us by his own glory and goodness’. This is an effectual call that imparts new life and makes sinners willing to come to Christ. It comes with ‘divine power’.
2. A transformed life
What God has done in the past is a stimulus to present activity – ‘For this very reason’ (v5). Maximum effort is required – ‘make every effort’, relying, of course, on the Lord’s strength. There is to be growth and progress in our spiritual life. Peter lists vital areas of concern – faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love (v5-7). All of these are to be cultivated together, not one at a time. We are to develop as full-orbed Christians, striving for maturity in Christ. The result – ‘they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive’ (v8). Instead there will be faithful service and increasing likeness to the Lord. The careless Christian becomes ‘blind’ (v9), losing capacity to appreciate truth, perhaps even closing his eyes to truth (‘short-sighted’?).
3. An urgent summons
The Lord commands, ‘make your calling and election sure’ (v10). It is not that God’s decree of salvation is uncertain – it is eternally fixed – but we cannot penetrate his counsels. How may we be assured of salvation? Growth and progress are tokens that we belong to him. We can have confidence – ‘if you do these things, you will never fall’ (v10). Obedience does not earn a secure interest in Christ, but proves we have it (see James 2:26). The future prospect for the believer is full enjoyment of the Kingdom of God – ‘the eternal kingdom’ (v11). The faithful believer will ‘receive a rich welcome’. The Lord provides lavishly without cost to us. We should always marvel at God’s grace and generosity. It is a glorious prospect for those who have experienced the new birth.
In the history of the early church the place of some books of the New Testament has been disputed. The place of e.g. Hebrews and Revelation was often debated as the NT gradually took shape. Our confidence is in the supervising providence of God, ensuring that only the ‘God-breathed’ books were accepted. No book was more strenuously debated than 2 Peter, partly because its style is so different from 1 Peter. We need have no doubt, however, that it is by the apostle Peter, written around AD66, shortly before his martyrdom. We begin with 2 Peter 1:1-2 Introducing 2 Peter.
1. The writer identified
The letter begins with a simple statement ‘Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle’. He identifies himself as one of the original group of disciples. Note:
Authority: he is an apostle, chosen and commissioned by Christ, with the Lord from the start of his public ministry (John 1:40), one of the inner group of disciples, present at the transfiguration (Mark 9:2) and a witness to the resurrection (Luke 24). He occupied a prominent position among the disciples and was one of the first to suffer imprisonment for his faith.
Humility: he says first that he is a ‘servant’ – supremely of Christ but also of the church. He serves as a ‘fellow elder’ (1 Peter 5:1), not claiming a privileged position, exercising leadership for the glory of God and the benefit of the church. Peter is a testimony to the grace of God transforming an impetuous and sometimes weak man, moulding him into the ‘rock’. He was an ordinary man saved and changed by the Lord.
2. The recipients described
The description is spiritual: ‘To those who…have received a faith as precious as ours’ – united with Peter in the same saving faith in Christ. The faith is to be ‘received’ – from the Lord himself (Ephesians 2:8). Faith is receiving and resting upon Christ for salvation, trusting in him (Acts 16:31). It is based on ‘the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ’ – a powerful testimony to his deity, which is essential if he is to save us from sin. ‘Righteousness’ (or ‘justice’) ensures that all believers are equal in spiritual standing before God. Jew and Gentile believers share the same saving faith as that of Peter, an eyewitness of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord.
3. The greeting conveyed
It is a profound greeting in the form of a prayer: ‘Grace and peace be your in abundance’.
Grace: the entire Christian life must be lived by grace (2 Timothy 2:1). Without the grace conveyed by the Holy Spirit, there will be no growth or progress.
Peace: a balanced, rounded life in fellowship with the Lord. This can be enjoyed even in trials, known only to those walking with the Lord (Philippians 4:7).
Note ‘through the knowledge…’ – the vital place for a godly use of the mind to get to know God better. It is never to be divorced from obedience and love, butt thinking through the application of our faith is vital to glorifying God and growing in grace.
Rev. Malcolm Ball
Rev. Malcolm Ball
Spiritually the nation of Israel was at a low ebb. As so often, many had turned from the Lord to serve false gods and the sovereign Lord has given them a taste of judgment on sin through the king of Assyria. The people, however, seem all the more hardened and their condition hopeless (8:22). Is there a word from the Lord? Through Isaiah God gives a promise of the coming Messiah. Consider Isaiah 9:6-7 Four Names: One Saviour.
1. The gift of the Messiah
Note v6 ‘unto us a child is born’ – an event of great significance to the whole nation. One child is set in contrast to the mighty empire of Assyria. What use can he be? But he will bring deliverance to the people of God. His ways are not our ways (55:8). Deliverance comes through a real historical event. The Messiah is flesh and blood, one sharing our nature (Hebrews 2:17). He is no ordinary child, his virgin conception being described in 7:14. By God’s grace ‘unto us a son is given’ (See also John 3:16). Though a child, he is not weak – ‘the government shall be upon his shoulders’ (see also Matthew 28:18). He fulfils the promise to David of an eternal king on his throne (2 Samuel 7).
2. The titles of the Messiah
(i). Wonderful Counsellor. The Messiah himself is a Wonder, with a nature beyond human understanding. The Messiah will provide a marvellous salvation. He needs no human counsellors to advise him and his plans will not fail.
(ii). The Mighty God. The mystery of the incarnation – God himself comes as Deliverer. ‘Immanuel’ (7:14) – ‘God with us’ in a unique way. As a warrior he bears sin on the cross and defeats his enemies (Colossians 2:15). He overcomes sin and death.
(iii). The Everlasting Father. Christ is a Father to his people, guarding and providing for them. He never forsakes them and is the good shepherd of Psalm 23.
(iv). The Prince of Peace. His atoning work in his death and resurrection provides true peace. He removes all that disturbs his people’s peace by dealing with sin – ‘being justified by faith, we have peace with God’ (Romans 5:1). We may then be at peace with ourselves and with others. ‘Peace’ is life in harmony with God.
3. The reign of the Messiah
What is the kingdom of the Prince of Peace like? According to v7 ‘of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end’. It is a growing kingdom, with multitudes brought willingly to submit to the King. It is a spiritual kingdom comprising redeemed sinners. Christ’s atonement results in ‘a great multitude that no-one could count’ (revelation 7:9). On the ‘throne of David’ he reigns over the people of God, all who are true spiritual Jews (Romans 2:29). His reign is characterised by ‘justice and righteousness’. The guarantee that this will all take place is the ‘zeal of the Lord’ – zeal for the honour of his name. There is no possibility of failure.
As evangelical and Reformed Christians we are accustomed to stress that salvation is by grace alone. We give much attention to texts like Ephesians 2:8 and doctrines such as justification by faith as taught by Paul and rediscovered by the Reformers. That is right and proper – only this gospel points the way to salvation in Christ. We rightly deny a role to good works in receiving salvation. We can, however, become anxious about any mention of good works in the Christian life or talk of ministry to people’s physical/material needs. In fact what we need is a biblical balance. Consider Ephesians 2:10 Why good works?
1. Works excluded
Paul is emphatic in v9 ‘not by works, so that no-one can boast’. He is driving home the lesson of v8 regarding the only way of salvation. The consistent testimony of Scripture is that it is impossible for salvation to be secured by human effort – ‘by observing the law no-one will be justified’ (Galatians 2:16). No amount of effort can cancel past sin or preserve from future sin. Even the attempt to justify ourselves by good works is itself a sin requiring repentance (Isaiah 64:6). Nor is it possible to combine grace and good works – ‘if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace’ (Romans 11:6). Grace and works cannot mix, so no amount of church going, social engagement, etc, can contribute anything to a sinner’s salvation.
2. Divine handiwork
Paul goes on to make a striking statement about believers – ‘For we are God’s workmanship’. At conversion the Lord begins a work in us that transforms us. The word Paul uses can have the suggestion of a ‘work of art’, indicating that God makes something beautiful of us. He specifies further that we are ‘created in Christ Jesus’ – this is the miracle at the centre of salvation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Nothing less is sufficient to explain what takes place. We are ‘born again’ (John 3:3). We are united to Christ in his death and resurrection. He changes us at the very depths of our being. We ‘are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Christ is the pattern to which God’s grace and power are conforming us.
3. Works required
Acts 10:38 says of Jesus that ‘he went around doing good’. Those united to him by faith are to reproduce his likeness, hence v10 says we are ‘created in Christ to do good works’. He is both the enabler of Christian good works by the power and grace of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the example of such a life (leaving aside works that were part of his unique redemptive ministry). Out of who we now are in Christ – ‘children of God’ (1 John 3:1) – we are to live lives appropriate to our new identity. Our new character will produce new works. Thus when we bear the fruit of love (Galatians 5:22) we will show love to others. Note ‘which God prepared in advance’ – sovereign preparation, granting opportunities for good works and grace to do them. That is a great encouragement to serve. Literally v10 reads ‘that we should walk in them’ – a continuous lifestyle of imitating the Saviour’s goodness.