Faith in Action

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 2 Peter 1:3-7 ESV

Peter has just offered a prayer that grace and peace be multiplied in the lives of his readers, based on their expanding knowledge of God and His Son. As their understanding of the Father and Son grew, so would their faith in and reliance upon them. Later in his letter, Peter provides a stern warning against the dangers of false teachers. These individuals were attempting to promote a different source of knowledge. But here, he opens up with an encouragement to know God. His simple prayer reflects the thoughts of Paul found in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. – Ephesians 1:15-18 NLT

Here in the opening chapter of his letter, Peter puts a heavy emphasis on spiritual growth and maturity. It echoes the words found in his first letter.

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. – 1 Peter 2:2 NLT

While salvation is a one-time event in the life of a believer, it is far from a static process. It begins at a point in time but then carries on for a lifetime. This process is often referred to as sanctification. The apostle Paul sums up the God-ordained and Spirit-empowered process of sanctification in his letter to the believers in Rome.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 ESV

In God’s grand redemptive plan, our salvation is the opening act of a marvelous drama that will one day culminate with the final scene of our glorification. The apostle John describes this ongoing transformative process in his first letter.

Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as Christ is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 BSB

Ephesians 2:8 makes it clear that we are “saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” He went on to warn that it is “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). Yet, Paul seems to be contradicting himself in his letter to the Philippian believers: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV). But Paul is not encouraging salvation by works. He is simply stating that the process of sanctification takes effort on our part. Our salvation was a gift. But our sanctification is a Spirit-empowered process that requires our cooperation and willing participation.

And Peter reminds his readers that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). In other words, they were not going to have to self-manufacture the energy to live godly lives. It had all been provided for them by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The “all things” to which Paul refers are the divine resources they had received when they came to know Christ. They were fully equipped for the sanctifying process God had in store for them. But it would require a constant reliance upon God’s Spirit and a desire to grow in their knowledge of God and His Son.

For Peter, it was essential that his readers understand that Jesus had called them to Himself by His own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). They had been attracted to the moral excellence and virtue of the God-man, Jesus. His sinless life and sacrificial death on their behalf had been the source of their belief. The gospel that had been preached to them had declared Jesus to be the Son of God and the sole source of salvation from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death. And they had believed. But now, Peter wanted them to know that there was much more in store for them. There were precious promises attached to their salvation.

…because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:4 NLT

Peter raises their expectations and focuses their attention on the ultimate outcome of their salvation: Their future glorification. But that pending promise had present implications. Yes, they would one day share in Christ’s divine nature and permanently escape the influence of the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. But they didn’t have to wait for the hereafter. Peter assured them that they could also live distinctively different lives in the here-and-now.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. – 2 Peter 1:5-7 NLT

God had promised to sanctify them and He would. But they would have a part to play in the process. Jesus had not only called them by His own glory and excellence, but He was calling them to share in His glory and excellence. They were to model their lives after His. And Peter gives them an extensive, yet not exhaustive, list of Christ-like qualities with which to supplement their faith. These are the “things” to which Peter referred back in verse three.

Peter begins with moral excellence. The Greek word is aretē, and it refers to “a virtuous course of thought, feeling and action” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). Faith in Christ should result in a life that mirrors the character of Christ. If we will one day be like Him, then it only makes sense to begin the process now. It should be our greatest desire to emulate His life and mirror His moral excellence in all that we do.

Next, Peter encourages his readers to supplement their faith with knowledge. The Greek word is gnōsis, and it refers to the acquisition of information that can be beneficial to decision-making. In the early days of the church, there was a growing heresy that came to be known as Gnosticism. The proponents of this false doctrine taught that true salvation was based on the discovery of secret or hidden knowledge that was only discoverable by a fortunate few. This “higher truth” was declared to be essential for attaining divine status and achieving spiritual maturity. But Peter was suggesting something altogether different. He was promoting an ever-increasing knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son. The kind of knowledge Peter had in mind was the same that Paul descrived to the believers in Philippi.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. – Philippians 1:9-10 NLT

Next, Peter adds the quality of self-control (egkrates), which is “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites” (Outline of Biblical Usage). One of the false teachings that had infiltrated the early church was dualism, which taught that the spirit was essentially holy, while the physical body was impure and defiled. This dualistic approach to life made allowances for ungodly behavior in the “body” because it didn’t matter. It propagated the idea that anything done in the body, even the grossest sin, was actually meaningless and, therefore, permissible. But Peter clarified that, for the Christian, there was no dichotomy between spirit and body. The new nature they had received by virtue of their faith in Christ was to be evidenced in every area of their lives.

And their visible exhibition of self-control was to be marked by steadfastness (hypomonē). In Greek, this word carries the idea of constancy and unswerving perseverance. According to the Outline of Biblical Usage, it is “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”

Peter knew that his readers were facing increasing opposition and oppression for their faith in Christ. And even when they did what was right, they would suffer for doing so. That is why they needed to persevere in spite of the adversity they would face. And when they did, they would be following the example of Christ Himself.

But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:20-21 ESV

Suffering for the sake of Christ was part of their calling. But perseverance in the face of suffering would require godliness (eusebeia). And Peter used the life of Christ to describe exactly what this looked like in his first letter.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1 Peter 2:22-23 ESV

Patient endurance will show up as godly behavior – that which reflects the character of God. And it is based on a desire to honor and please God through our actions.

According to Peter, one of those demonstrations of godliness would be brotherly affection (philadelphia). It was essential that Christians exhibit a demonstrative and distinctively different love for one another. It was Jesus who said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 NLT). Their love for one another was to be tangible and visible. It was to set them apart from the rest of society and provide living proof that God had transformed their hearts and lives.

But Peter adds one more essential and non-negotiable attribute: Love (agapē). This takes the concept of love one step further. Here, Peter is highlighting a love that is unbiased and non-partial. It goes beyond filial or familial love. This is the kind of love that Jesus described in His Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:43-48 NLT

The apostle Paul summed up this kind of love when he wrote: “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT). This is the same kind of love they had experienced from God and they were expected to share that love with anyone and everyone, including their enemies and their friends. Even if it cost them their lives. For as Jesus declared, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 ESV).

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