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

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). 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. 8–9: True Faith Produces True Virtue

The Apostle Peter is a study in the grace of progressive sanctification. The man who denied Jesus before the face of a young girl (and several others; Matt 26:71–75) around a campfire, who had to be corrected by the Apostle Paul for denying the gospel (Gal 2:11–14) is, as he dictated this second and final epistle, an old man. Ancient church tradition tells us that it will not be long before he would be arrested, tried, and martyred for the faith. One might read these epistles with another copy of Scripture open to the gospels, as we can almost see him recalling his three years under the discipleship of our Lord.

Presumably, he writes this epistle to the churches in Asia Minor but, unlike 1 Peter, the recipients are not named. So, he addresses all those who profess faith in Christ: “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (2 Pet 1:1; ESV). Peter is clear in both epistles that salvation (not only justification, but sanctification and glorification) is by grace alone, through faith alone. Peter was a living testimony to the free favor of God merited for him by Christ and received through faith alone. God the Spirit had given Peter new life and true faith, had united him to the risen Christ, and had even called him to office of apostle. The Spirit had used his preaching to call thousands to new life and true faith.

Peter had the privilege of being identified with Christ and of suffering for the sake of Christ and of his gospel. Those experiences had doubtless been clarifying. Many of the things that we consider important melt away in the face of the lash, prison, and death.

For Peter, faith has consequences. The same Spirit who raised us from spiritual death to new life, who gave us faith, who united us to Christ, is still at work in us. He uses the language of virtue (see the commentary on the previous passages). This is a category with which many Bible-believing Christians are no longer familiar but it is rather important in Scripture. They have also been important in Christian theology. The great medieval theologian, with whom Protestants have some very serious disagreements to be sure but from whose work Reformed theologians have nevertheless long benefitted, defined virtue thus:

Virtue denotes a certain perfection of a power. Now a thing’s perfection is considered chiefly in regard to its end. But the end of power is act. Wherefore power is said to be perfect, according as it is determinate to its act (ST 1a2ae 55.1).

When Thomas speaks of “the end” of a power (vis), he refers to the purpose or the outcome of a power. God the Spirit works in us to change us but that change should have an outcome, a result, a change. Thomas called such change a “habit” habitus), a disposition that leads to a way of living in a particular regard. Sanctification is the gracious, gradual moral transformation of the believer by virtue of the gracious act of the Spirit, conforming the believer to Christ. The Reformed have spoken about mortification (putting to death sins) and vivification, being made alive to Christ. Thomas spoke of “grace making gracious.” Now, to be sure, he thought that being made gracious, i.e., being sanctified, was unto justification. As Protestants, we read Scripture differently. We see that justification leads to sanctification and that leads to virtue. In our view, Thomas the Romanists after him (at Trent) put the cart before the horse, but the cart is still important.

v. 8: “For these things being and abounding to you…”. Most English translations, going all the way back to Tyndale c. 1526, read this clause as a conditional: “if…”. The conditional is not explicit in the text. I think it makes more sense to take it as an expression of consequence: “Since it is the case that these things (which he just finished cataloguing) exist and abound in you, certain things should follow.” The grace of God is not useless. As our older Reformed writers used to say, we have been justified in order that (or, with the result that) we should be sanctified. We might add, we are being sanctified with the result that it might bear fruit. That’s exactly what he goes to say next. All these graces are not “fruitless.” He uses the verb “to appoint.” Literally the texts say, “they appoint neither laziness nor fruitlessness.” Rather, they are “unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We might read it, “they appoint neither x nor y in the knowledge of…”. In other words, just as Noah was appointed to announce the coming judgment and the present offer of salvation, so to we have been rescued from the coming judgment and we are announcing the salvation in Christ. We are to conduct our lives with and by the virtues that he has just listed.

v. 9: “For the one in whom these [virtues] are not present is nearsighted…”. The word used her can mean “blind.” In that case, it might seem that Peter is contrasting believers who can see with the pagans around them who cannot. This might be a possible reading except for the next clause, which changes the sense of τυφλός. It is better translated here as “nearsighted.”

Sanctification and the virtues that result are not a second blessing. It is possible, however for believers to lose sight of what Christ has done for them and of who and what they are in Christ. We need to be reminded constantly. This is the gospel mystery of sanctification (and virtue). It is not produced in believers by graceless legal preaching but by graceful, patient, gospel-preaching.

squinting, forgetful of receiving the propitiation of sins long ago.” Peter is thinking of the Christian, perhaps even of himself. When we fail to strive toward and produce virtue, real, actual change in our lives, it is because we have forgotten that we are the recipients of amazing, astounding grace: we have received the “purification” (καθαρισμοῦ) of our old sins. We live in light of that fact. We live in that grace (divine favor merited for us by Christ), in union with Christ. Our sins have been cleansed. We are no longer under condemnation. We have been washed.

Baptism, of course, cannot accomplish this—here we disagree with Thomas and Rome. Christ purified us. Titus 3:5 says explicitly that baptism does not accomplish this washing. It is a sacrament (not a mystery, contra Rome), i.e., a sign and seal of Christ has done for all his elect. Christ with his benefits, including purification, is received through faith resting, receiving, and trusting in him.

Faith then, is not formed (made what it is) by virtue (e.g., love) but the same Spirit who gave us new life and true faith, who united us to Christ, is sanctifying us and producing in us actual changes and virtues.

Praise God for gracious, gradual sanctification leading to real, gradual, lasting Christlikeness.


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One comment

  1. Dear Dr. Clark,

    This catalog of your commentary on 1 & 2 Peter is so very helpful. Thank you.

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