by Mike Ratliff
22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,
“All flesh is like grass,
And all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
And the flower falls off,
25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word which was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:22-25 (NASB)
The Puritans had a term they used in their theological writings and discussions describing professing believers who fell away or were in some way not consistent in their walk. They called them “temporary believers.” This may be a little offensive to many these days, but there are untold numbers of Pastors, Deacons, Elders, Evangelists, or whatever in our churches in our time who would not even qualify for membership in a 17th Century Puritan Church. As I have stated many times, I grew up in Oklahoma as a Southern Baptist. I have seen literally hundreds (if not more) of “invitations.” In a large percentage of these invitations, people walked an aisle, prayed a sinner’s prayer, was Baptised, and made a full member of the church. All of this taking place in a just a period of days. I have also observed a staggeringly high percentage of those professing believers last only a short period of time before disappearing from church never to be seen again.
Is this problem a problem with the nature of Christianity? I contend that there is nothing wrong with Christianity. There is a huge problem with the way it is practiced in the USA in the 21st Century by large numbers of churches. The scenario that I described in the first paragraph is very common in our churches and has been for as long as I can remember. If we look at the writings and listen to the sermons of Christian theologians throughout the 20th Century we learn that those we know who were not contaminated with Christian Liberalism were constantly crying out against its invasion into our churches and denominations. The “Main Stream” denominations grew more and more liberal. This trend is culminating in our time with some of these denominations being more pagan than Christian. This liberalization of church doctrines that began in the 19th Century in this country created a new form of Christianity called Evangelical. These churches strived to fend off the creeping pollution of liberalism, but ended up morphing into a what we see today with man-focused worship, light-preaching, and pragmatism. These churches decry doctrine in favor of being culturally relevant. They say they are missional. They preach a gospel that makes it as easy as possible for people to be saved. They have removed the barriers of guilt, repentance, God’s wrath against sin, and the coming judgment against all sin. Instead they preach a gospel that eases people into “decisions” to make their life better with Jesus. We have vast numbers of Christians who have never heard the words “regeneration,” “repentance,” “wrath,” “judgment,” or possibly even “sin.” What does the Bible say about our faith? Are we to simply make “decisions” and that makes us Christians? Is there more to it than that?
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, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 2 Peter 1:1-4 (NASB)
The Apostle Peter, without a doubt the leader of the 12 Apostles who followed Jesus Christ during His ministry, identifies himself here as a servant and apostle of our Lord. The word bond-servant here is the Greek word δοῦλος which means a permanent slave. It is translated as “bondservant” in the AV and the NKJV. This describes a slave who has endeared him or her self to their master for life. It is a mark of humility for Peter to use this term about himself. We see in Paul’s epistles that he used it to describe his relationship with Christ as well. He then tells to whom this epistle, that we call 2 Peter, is addressed. It is written to all who have obtained a faith of equal standing with the apostles by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Who is this? I am being facicious. Of course, we know this is written to all genuine believers. What do all genuine believers have in common? They have obtained a faith by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. How did they do that?
In v3 in the passage above, we see that Christ’s divine power has granted all believers all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called them to his own glory and excellence. The answer to my last question is found in this verse. God called them. The word in this passage is the same word found in Romans 8:29-30.
29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Romans 8:29-30 (NASB)
That word, “called” or κλητοῖς (klētois), simply means to call or invite. The following is from one of John MacArthur’s notes on this passage. “However, in the New Testament it always means the same thing. It is the effectual call to salvation. This saving call is based on the sinner’s understanding of Christ’s revealed majesty and moral excellence evidencing that He is Lord and Saviour. This implies that there must be a clear presentation of Christ’s person and work as the God-Man in evangelism, which attracts men to salvation. The Cross and resurrection most clearly reveal His “glory and virtue.” In any case, I believe this verse is key to our understanding how genuine salvation takes place. It is like a marker that is missing in the majority of the “decisions for Christ” that mega-churches are always using to show they are on the “right track.”
Those whom God effectually calls are changed. They are new creations. They are genuine believers because they are Born Again through regeneration. They did not make a simple decision and then are rewarded with eternal life because they prayed a sinner’s prayer. Instead we have the correct picture of God saving His people by calling them effectually which always results in their belief and repentance because they see clearly their sin contrasted with Christ’s Righteousness, His work on the Cross to save them and His resurrection which shows His supernatural power. This knowledge of Christ’s Righteousness is part of the gift of faith that is part of the effectual call. No matter what the order is of these “events” we believe in, we must agree that salvation is of God, not Man.
What is changed in these new creations? They are given very great promises and are made partakers of the divine nature. What does that mean? The promises are of abundant and eternal life and all of the wonderful things that go along with them. What does that mean that believers are partakers of the divine nature? This is just another way of saying they are born again. They are new creations. They are spiritually alive whereas before, they were spiritually dead. They have the Holy Spirit living in them. The last word on Romans 8:30 is “glorified.” This is the promise of a glorified body like Christ’s in eternity.
Notice also that the Born Again believer has escaped from the corruption that is in the world through sinful desires. Does this mean that all genuine believers will be free from these sinful desires? Not immediately, but over time God will use our struggle with these sinful desires to teach us humility and conform us unto the image of His Son via sanctification. It will take the rest of our lives.
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; 2 Peter 1:5-10 (NASB)
Verses 5-10 in 2 Peter 1 give us Peter’s concept of how genuine Christians are to manage their spiritual walk. Our faith is given to us by God or, if you will, our faith is made alive by God at our salvation as a gift which enables us to be saved. Either way that we conceive of this, it is our responsibility to put ourselves into position to grow in Christ or grow in grace. Why? This is in obedience to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) How does Peter tell us to do this? First, we are to supplement or add to our faith. That’s not something we hear everyday is it? What does it mean? The Greek word translated “supplement” or “add” here means to give lavishly and generously and never sparingly. This will make a lot of sense as we go through what we are to “add” to our faith. Remember, God has given us our faith and His Grace which is all we need to live lives of godliness. We are to add to what God has given to us by diligent devotion to our personal holiness.
The first thing Peter tells us to add to our faith is “virtue.” The Greek word translated as “Virtue” means moral excellence. It means to live a morally excellent life demonstrated before the world by living it out. It never means to live a cloistered pious life behind monastery walls, hidden from the world. Peter’s usage of this word here is describing believers adding to their faith, moral energy that performs excellent deeds. Do we, then, simply look around us for good deeds to do to show everyone how virtuous we are? Of course not! We are to turn our hearts to God, follow His lead and never hesitate to help others in ways that we would never do if we were self-focused. I believe that when we listen to God then obey Him we will find ourselves doing these things in total surprise to our own reason.
Peter then commands us to add “knowledge” to our “virtue.” This is speaking of knowledge of God, His Words and His ways. This is truth. We learn these things from the Word of God. We are to add to our faith, virtue then supplement those with Bible knowledge. What will we be like if do this? I believe being virtuous will be a lot easier for us if we have a clear and complete knowledge of God’s Word. We will know God’s ways. We will know what are not God’s ways. We will be able to discern what tries to pass for Christianity which really isn’t. How? We will know the truth from God’s Word. No lies from the enemy, nor his deceptions can find a home in our hearts if we are diligently testing the spirits against the truth from God’s Word.
Peter then tells us to add self-control to our knowledge. Peter is telling Christians that we must not be controlled by our fleshly desires. We must “hold ourselves in.” This speaks of athletes not wasting their strength and abilities on distractions that can only dilute. For the Christian, this means that they devote themselves more and more to personal holiness. They deny their flesh. They put to death their sinful desires. Instead they dedicate themselves to fulfillment from God and God alone by disdaining any focus that can become idolatrous.
After self-control, the Christian is to add steadfastness or perseverance. This describes patience in doing what is right, never giving in to what the flesh wants or to a temptation to give in by forcing their will over others. The picture from the Greek is describing one who will die rather than give in because of their vibrant hope. Hope is in the will and is inseparable from our faith. As we learn to add these virtues to our faith our hope will deepen and become more and more vibrant. This will enable the believer to withstand temptations that would have consumed them before.
To self-control we are to add godliness. This word means to live reverently, loyally, and obediently toward God. The ability to be godly is elemental within our faith as God’s Grace flows in and through us. In Peter’s progression of virtue, we have our faith from God to which we add virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, and then godliness. It is interesting that godliness, even though we have all we need to attain it in our salvation, we do not exhibit it in our character until we have learned to be the virtuous Christian Peter is describing. Our godliness will be manifest as we obtain moral excellence, knowledge of God, self-control and patience.
Next we are to add brotherly affection or brotherly kindness to our godliness. This is mutual sacrifice for one another. This means that genuine Christians should never treat other Christians shabbily. If there are needs then we should try to meet them. If encouragement is needed then we give it. If godly advice is needed then we do not hold it back.
The last thing Peter tells us that we must add is love or ἀγάπην. It is as if we will be totally selfless in our love to everyone as it flows from our brotherly affection which flows from our godliness which flows from our patience which flows from our self-control which flows from knowledge of God which flows from our moral excellence which flows from our faith which is a gift from God.
Peter then says, “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.” Is this needed in the USA version of Christianity? It sure is needed in my heart. If we become this virtuous then the promise is that we will be effective in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Did you catch that? Why would this be true?
3 Commit your works to the Lord
And your plans will be established. Proverbs 16:3 (NASB)
The virtuous Christian Peter is describing in this passage is committed to God in everything he or she does. All is under Christ’s Lordship. They are godly in character and effective in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. That means that whatever their role is in the Kingdom of God, they are effective there. The opposite is true if we are lazy Christians who are simply awaiting Heaven, watching TV as our major pastime, seldom opening our Bibles, selfishly hoarding our resources and time for ourselves then we will be ineffective or unfruitful in the Kingdom. “For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.” I do not want my Saviour to return and find me in that worthless condition. “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.”
I believe that Peter is telling us that genuine Christians will be drawn to become virtuous as he described here. They also diligently examine themselves to make their calling and election sure. However, false professors will do none of these things via the Spirit. They may very well do good works and look very good on the outside, but Jesus Himself said that not everyone who calls Him Lord, Lord are truly His. Only those who diligently grow in grace by practicing what Peter gave us here reveal themselves to be genuine. Many of us did not pursue this until many years after salvation. I am in this group. All I can say is God is patient and gracious. He had to take me through much to get me to surrender to His will in my walk. He did a mighty work there so that I could start this godly walk by His grace.
If this discussion has left you doubting your salvation then I suggest going to God in prayer, seek His face, ask Him to show you the truth. I believe that conviction of sin is one of the best indications of genuineness. After all, non-believers will not be convicted the same way. If you are convicted that you need to start doing what Peter tells us to here then I suggest that you begin with spending more and more time with Him in prayer and devotion. I have no doubt that He will do a wonderful work on your heart as you deny what your flesh wants, fasting from the world as you feast on Him.
Soli Deo Gloria!