As It Was In The Days Of Noah (27): 2 Peter 1:3–11 (part 2)

3His 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, 4by 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. 5For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (ESV). 3Ὡς ⸆ πάντα ἡμῖν τῆς θείας δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ τὰ πρὸς ζωὴν καὶ εὐσέβειαν δεδωρημένης διὰ τῆς ἐπιγνώσεως τοῦ καλέσαντος ἡμᾶς ⸂ἰδίᾳ δόξῃ καὶ ἀρετῇ⸃ 4διʼ ὧν τὰ ⸂τίμια καὶ μέγιστα ἡμῖν ἐπαγγέλματα⸃ δεδώρηται, ἵνα διὰ τούτων γένησθε θείας κοινωνοὶ φύσεως ἀποφυγόντες ⸄τῆς ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἐν ἐπιθυμίᾳ φθορᾶς⸅. 5καὶ ⸂αὐτὸ τοῦτο δὲ⸃ σπουδὴν πᾶσαν παρεισενέγκαντες ἐπιχορηγήσατε ἐν τῇ πίστει ὑμῶν τὴν ἀρετήν, ἐν δὲ τῇ ἀρετῇ τὴν γνῶσιν, 6ἐν δὲ τῇ γνώσει τὴν ἐγκράτειαν, ἐν δὲ τῇ ἐγκρατείᾳ τὴν ὑπομονήν, ἐν δὲ τῇ ὑπομονῇ τὴν εὐσέβειαν, 7ἐν δὲ τῇ εὐσεβείᾳ τὴν φιλαδελφίαν, ἐν δὲ τῇ φιλαδελφίᾳ τὴν ἀγάπην. 8ταῦτα γὰρ ὑμῖν ⸀ὑπάρχοντα καὶ πλεονάζοντα οὐκ ἀργοὺς οὐδὲ ἀκάρπους καθίστησιν εἰς τὴν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐπίγνωσιν· 9ᾧ γὰρ μὴ πάρεστιν ταῦτα, τυφλός ἐστιν μυωπάζων λήθην λαβὼν τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ τῶν πάλαι αὐτοῦ ἁμαρτιῶν. 10διὸ μᾶλλον, ἀδελφοί, σπουδάσατε βεβαίαν ὑμῶν τὴν κλῆσιν καὶ ἐκλογὴν ποιεῖσθαι· ταῦτα γὰρ ποιοῦντες οὐ μὴ πταίσητέ ποτε. 11οὕτως γὰρ πλουσίως ἐπιχορηγηθήσεται ὑμῖν ἡ εἴσοδος ⸆ εἰς τὴν αἰώνιον βασιλείαν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012; 2 Pe 1:3–11).

vv. 5–7: Adding Virtue To Faith

In recent decades there has been a great deal of discussion in the evangelical and Reformed worlds about the Christian doctrine of sanctification. One of the mistakes that I have made in the past and which I think some continue to make is to say that justification is monergistic but that sanctification is synergistic. I do not doubt the sincerity or the intent of those who speak this way (which, to repeat, I used to do) but I have become convinced that it is a mistake to speak this way. First, because sanctification is just one aspect of salvation (justification, sanctification, and glorification) and it is all of grace alone, through faith alone. The Apostle Paul is quite clear: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8; ESV). Salvation is the Lord’s from beginning to end. When our Lord delivered us (our brothers and sisters who lived during the types and shadows) out of Egypt, it was by grace alone. This is why the prologue to the Decalogue says: “I am Yahweh your God, who delivered you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex 20:2; ESV). Our salvation was not synergistic. It was monergistic.

Second, as we saw in earlier, in 2 Peter 1:3–4, sanctification is wrought in by God’s grace and power alone. Our effort and good works are not properly sanctification. They are the consequences of sanctification, which results in vigorous exertion by Christians. As we say in Westminster Shorter Catechism 35: “ Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” Sanctification is a free gift. Notice the passive verbs: “we are renewed…”, We are enabled…” As Abraham Kuyper wrote in The Work of the Holy Spirit, the “demand of sanctification belongs to the Covenant of Works; sanctification itself to the Covenant of Grace. This makes the difference very obvious.”

Peter’s Virtue Ethics

As a consequence of the gracious, sanctifying work, however, Christians do exert themselves. We must. We are called to it. Faith results in sanctification and it also leads to the results of sanctification: virtue. This is a category in which modern evangelicals have not been very interested. In the 19th and for most of the 20th century, evangelicals were mainly interested in conversions and religious experiences. In the late modern period the emphasis on the Christian life has been on therapeutic categories and success (of whatever sort).

In traditional Christian theology and piety, however, virtue was a vital category. Pre-Reformation theologians distinguished between the theological virtues (faith, hope, and love; 1 Cor 13:13) and the “cardinal virtues:” prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. The mistake the medieval and Tridentine theologians made was to say that we are accepted with God because and to the degree these virtues are formed within us. That is a false gospel. New life and true faith, however, does lead to virtue. Peter says so:

v. 5: “And with respect to this very same thing” [fleeing worldly lusts], after making every effort, add to your faith virtue (ἀρετήν), and to virtue knowledge.” Faith knows, agrees that the Scriptures and the faith are true, and trusts for oneself Christ and his promises but faith also presses on to virtue. Peter gives us a short list of virtues to be added to faith. Notice that he does not speak as the medieval and Tridentine theologians spoke, as if virtue forms faith or makes it saving. No, grace alone saves and true faith alone receives salvation freely given but true faith also seeks these virtues. The first of which is knowledge. This is in contrast to much of contemporary evangelical accounts of faith and piety, where knowledge is at the end of the list. Peter places it at the head of the list. We do what we know. We believe what we know. We cannot believe rightly nor can we act rightly until we know whom and what we are to believe and we cannot act rightly until we have been instructed. Ignorance, especially willful ignorance, is not a virtue. Salvation affects the intellect.

v. 6: “and to knowledge, self-control.” Salvation also affects the will. Peter does not stop with knowledge. It must lead to self-control (ἐγκράτειαν). If there is a single vice that characterizes the post-Christian West it may be lack of self-control. We speak regularly of athletes and celebrities being “out of control.” The colloquial metaphor “off the chain” captures the spirit of the age. We binge on more than Netflix shows. By grace alone, through faith alone, by virtue of their union with Christ, Christians are empowered to stop, to say no, and thereby exercise self-control. Our voices, our tempers, our appetites (of all sorts), our passions ought to marked by self-control.

Self-control leads to perseverance (ὑπομονήν). Even as I write these words I am conscious of the quasi-Stoic influences that might color our outlook on these virtues. The Christian faith, however, is not Stoicism but neither is it license to inconstancy. We do not persevere by “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.” We persevere by grace alone, through faith alone. We persevere in the communion of the saints, with our brothers and sister but we do persevere.

Apostasy does not happen like a lightning strike. It is not random and (contra Remonstrants (1610) and the Federal Visionists (2007) it does not happen to the elect. Apostasy describes those leaving of the faith by those who are members of the visible church, the covenant community, who have been admitted to the church on the basis of their profession of faith and baptism or by virtue of the initiation by baptism as the children of believers.

This happens because there are two ways of being in the one covenant of grace: externally and internally. All those who profess faith or who are properly baptized have an external relation to the covenant of grace. Those who receive Christ and his convenient of grace through true faith also have an internal relationship to the covenant of grace. Those who never have this internal relation are liable to fall away. Those who have an internal relation, do so because they are elect and can never fall away. Judas had an external relation to the covenant of grace. Hebrews 6:4 describes those who have only an external relation to the covenant of grace. They participate in the life of the church and, in a sense, taste the powers of the age to come. They fall away, because they were never actually united to Christ.

Those who profess faith need to avail themselves of the power of sanctification, of the means of grace, of prayer, and of fellowship in order to persevere. These are the ingredients of what Peter calls “piety” (εὐσέβειαν).

v. 7: “and to piety, brotherly love.” Salvation change the affections. The noun for piety is often translated godliness.  We might translate it “devoutness” or, in some contexts (according to the primary N.T. lexicon) “loyalty.” There is an integral relation between perseverance and loyalty. Are we not struck and deeply offended by Judas’ disloyalty to Jesus? Jesus was also nothing more than a means to an end for Judas. When it seemed to Judas that Jesus was not going to get him where he wanted to go, he abandoned him for 30 pieces of silver. The Apostle Peter knows whereof he writes. He was acutely aware of his own disloyalty to Jesus. Even as his Lord was on trial before the authorities and Peter had opportunity to give witness to Jesus, he refused and denied him three times before the rooster crowed. That was impiety. So is all sin.

“and to piety, brotherly love.”  Perseverance and piety occur in a context. One of the great sins of American evangelical piety is its independence. However valuable rugged individualism may be in civil or secular life it is not a spiritual virtue. We were saved to live out our faith in communion with others, with our brothers and sisters with whom we are being saved. It is only in such a context that we can properly exercise “brotherly affection.” Surely this means a certain joy and seeing and being with the church but also a desire to demonstrate that love in concrete ways. Here we think of James 2, where he demonstrates with the Jerusalem congregation for talking about faith but refusing to show it by feeding and clothing fellow Christians whose needs they could evidently see.

So we can see how Peter moves from brotherly affection to love (ἀγάπην). There is a certain movement and certain hierarchy here. Affection is one thing. Love is even more fundamental. Piety is love for God. Brotherly affection is a kind of love for one another in the church. Undergirding both, however, is true love, the sort of self-giving love shown by the Father when he sent his only and eternally begotten Son as the Savior of sinners (John 3:16).

The Christian life is the fruit of grace. It is the product of union with Christ. It is empowered by the gospel and the Spirit of God. The medievals were right. These virtues do need to be formed in us but they were wrong about the order. We need them to be formed in us not in order to be accepted with God but because we have been accepted. They are being formed in us who have been saved by grace alone, through faith alone. This is what it means to be partakers in the divine nature. Peter knows nothing of climbing a ladder of being. He does know, however, what means over years of discipleship to be gradually formed to the image of Christ. This is what happened to him, what he himself experienced. The Spirit formed in him these virtues. The same man who denied the Lord before the fire, who ran away from the cross, would (church tradition tells us) give witness to his Lord by being crucified upside down.


  1. See the entire commentary here: As It Was In The Days Of Noah: A Commentary On 1 and 2 Peter
  2. Resources On The Controversy Over “Final Salvation Through Works”
  3. Sanctification Is A Work Of God’s Grace: Resources On Sanctification
  4. Resources On Keeping Justification And Sanctification Together Without Confusing Them
  5. Is Faith A Virtue?
  6. Of Virtues True And False: Niceness v Christian Virtue

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