12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. – 2 Peter 1:12-15 ESV
Peter wasn’t telling his readers something they didn’t already know. He was simply reminding them of the truths they had been taught since the day they first believed. And he was determined to go on reminding them until the day God called him home. Peter knew that the circumstances they were facing had caused them to question the reliability of God’s promises. The presence of suffering and trials had left them wondering whether following Christ was really worth all the effort. But Peter reminded them that while faith alone in Christ alone could save them, they would need to develop and display the other Spirit-enabled attributes in their lives. He listed virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love as key components of a healthy and growing spiritual life. And while they were already aware of the necessity of these Christ-like characteristics, Peter was going to keep bringing them up until their lives reflected them – regardless of the circumstances.
There’s a vast difference between knowing the truth and actually living it out in daily life. A cognitive understanding of “these qualities” was insufficient. It was of little use to know the technical definition of self-control if you didn’t actually put it into practice. And any discussion of godliness that failed to produce godly behavior was little more than religious rhetoric. In other words, it was all talk, no action.
For Peter, these qualities needed to be constantly inculcated and incarnated into the life of the believer and ever-increasing in their influence. Otherwise, the believer would risk becoming “ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8 ESV). Notice that his emphasis is on Jesus. His point seems to be that a believer’s ever-expanding knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done will result in effectiveness and fruitfulness. The greater our understanding of all that Jesus accomplished on our behalf on the cross, the more we will seek to live like Him. We will grasp the amazing significance of the Spirit’s role in our lives and seek to live in obedience to His will. And when we do, we will accomplish greater works than Jesus Himself, just as He promised.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” – John 14:12 ESV
Jesus went on to tell His disciples that the power behind those “greater works” would be the Holy Spirit.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:16-17 ESV
It is only with the Holy Spirit’s help that a believer can transfer “these qualities” from the head to the heart and radically transform their behavior so that it mirrors that of Christ.
You can sense Peter’s urgency as he states, “it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live” ( 2 Peter 1:13 NLT). He was driven by an awareness that his days on earth were limited and that he must carefully steward whatever time he had left to carry out his commission. It is most likely that he wrote this letter from Rome, where it is believed he was eventually martyred by the Roman emperor, Nero. Peter lived with a determination to make the most of his time on earth, not wasting a single second that God graciously provided. In the back of his mind, Peter could always hear the prophetic words that the resurrected Jesus had spoken to him on the beach.
“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” – John 21:18-19 NLT
As the apostle John points out, Jesus was alluding to Peter’s eventual death. It is unclear whether Peter understood the words of Jesus to be a premonition concerning his eventual martyrdom. But he must have understood that by the time he reached old age, he would suffer some kind of arrest and imprisonment. It is believed that Peter was in his 50s by the time he wrote this second letter, and that would have been considered “old” in those days. With each passing year, Peter knew that his time on earth was drawing to a close. He even referenced the words that Jesus spoke to him that fateful day on the seashore.
For our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me that I must soon leave this earthly life, so I will work hard to make sure you always remember these things after I am gone. – 2 Peter 1:14-15 NLT
Peter wasn’t attempting to tug at their heartstrings or put them under some false sense of guilt or sympathetic obligation. He was simply expressing his determination to finish strong. He was going to take advantage of every precious moment he had and use it to encourage his brothers and sisters in Christ to “remember these things.” What things? These things: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.
Peter wasn’t promoting academic enhancement. He wasn’t looking for ritualistic religious practices or outward displays of self-righteousness. He was expressing an expectation in true heart change that showed up in Spirit-transformed behavior. It seems likely that Peter had in mind the words that Jesus had spoken to the pious and outwardly righteous Jews of His day.
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT
And Jesus had quoted the words of His Heavenly Father, recorded by the prophet, Isaiah (Isaiah 29:13). As God’s chosen and set-apart people, the Jews had displayed a penchant for playing the part. Jesus constantly referred to them as hypocrites, little more than actors in a play, pretending to be something other than what they truly were. And Peter feared that the readers of his letter were running the risk of doing the same thing. If their lives failed to reflect the fruit of righteousness, made possible by the indwelling presence of the Spirit, their worship would be nothing more than a farce. They would become ineffective and unfruitful. Their witness for Christ would become diluted by compromise with the world. And for Peter, that was unacceptable.
He had opened up this letter with powerful words of encouragement.
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. – 2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV
Peter expected the recipients of his letter to fully embrace the “precious and very great promises” made available to them in Christ. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on their behalf, they had become “partakers of the divine nature.” They weren’t sinners trying to act like saints. They had been redeemed, renewed, and enjoyed a reconciled relationship with God the Father. In Christ, they were new creations. Their old sin nature, while not fully eradicated, was no longer in control of their lives. They had the power to live distinctively different lives, just as Paul had declared to the believers in Corinth.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation… – 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 ESV
Not only did they have the ministry of reconciliation. They were to be living evidence of the transformative reality of Christ’s reconciling work. As Paul put it to the believers in Corinth, “The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This ‘letter’ is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3 NLT).
In the same way, Peter greatly desired that his brothers and sisters living in Asia Minor would be letters of recommendation, declaring with their lives the redemptive and reconciling power of the gospel.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.