Augustine once said, “Command what you will, oh God, but give what you command.” This prayerful axiom is an incredibly important lesson for Christians to learn: That the God who demands perfect righteousness supplies all that he demands. This is the good news of New Covenant.
2 Peter 1:3-11
One place where this truth becomes evident is in a passage of Scripture that at first sounds like we, the Christian, must make every effort to generate virtues to add to our faith. The passage is 2 Peter 1:3-11, and the problem is discerning where the good works in verses 5-7 come from. From God or from us?
First lets read the passage and then notice four textual clues that show us that God is the supplier of the good deeds he calls us to.
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. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There are at least four clues from the text that the imperative “to supplement” (epichorēgēsate) in verse 5 is not something we do on our own, but rather, as is true in all biblical Christianity, God is always at work in us to will and do all that he commands of us (cf. Phil 2:12-13). Let’s consider them together.
First, in verse 3-4, Peter gives the wonderful promise that God gives us everything we need for life and godliness. Therefore, prior to calling for “works,” he points to the boundless reservoirs of grace already available in Christ–and make no mistake, the resources of grace are not a substance acquired from God, but rather the spiritual favor and power that comes from a covenantal union with Christ. Accordingly, from a genuine knowledge of God in Christ and from his never failing promises, all that the passage calls believers to do is premised on the fact that he has antecedently provided that which he calls (cf John 15:5; Rom 8:32).
Second, this general principle of the imperative following the indicative–which is a most valuable lesson for interpreting the NT epistles and for understanding gospel-powered obedience–is followed up by a more specific textual link between verse 3 and verse 5. In verse 5, Peter calls Christians to add knowledge to their faith, and virtue. Later in 2 Peter 3:18, he will close with the command to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But both of these commands follow from the explicit reality, that God has made himself known to his elect exiles (cf. 1 Pet 1:1). This is seen in 2 Peter 1:2, where Peter greets his audience as those who know the Lord and are growing in that knowledge. And in the next verse, he explains that knowledge of God is the instrument by which God supplies the believer with everything they need for life and godliness.
Third, in verses 5-7, when Peter commands us to add to faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, there is noticeable move from faith to love (cf. Galatians 5:6), and maybe even a more defined progression from faith to love, through virtue, knowledge, self-control, etc–though it would be hard to make the ordering normative, as much as it is descriptive. Nevertheless, the main command to supplement these characteristics is retained from verse 5. Thus, in the process of adding all of these characteristics, comes the necessary dependence on God’s promises and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, verses 8-9 serve as an evaluative tool to discern if indeed we are walking in the Spirit, if we are experience the power of God in our Christian life. They invite the Christian to do a spiritual inventory and to take stock of what is there. If fruit is lacking, the imperative does not say to go out and find self-control (which is a fruit of the spirit, Gal 5:22) or to self-generate knowledge (which also is a gift, Prov 2:1-7), or to find endurance from within. Rather, a poor inventory, calls the Christian to go back to the beginning: To believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From that place of abiding belief, the believer looks to the promises of God and finds help in time of need and promises from God for life-change. Thus, the evaluation does not call for works divorced from faith, but faith that overflows in good works.
Fourth and last, in verse 10-11, we see Peter’s eschatological promise that those who do these things prove their election in this life. Genuine believers will be kept from falling and their entrance to the eternal kingdom will be well-furnished. To stress the point in question, we do not provide an entrance ourselves to heaven, nor are we the ones who are responsible for finding riches to add to that entrance. Rather, in Christ and through a lifetime of faith in his gospel that overflows into all the attributes listed in verses 5-7, God gives to the believer knowledge, godliness, and love–to only name a few.
Does This Promote Laxity in the Believer?
This heavy emphasis on grace and provision could easily promote laxity, but that would be to misunderstand the point. God does not motivate with fear; he motivates with fullness. For those who are full of love (for God and others), they cannot but do all that God commands. Remember, under the New Covenant, the commandments of God are not burdensome, for those who have been born again. For those who see the commands of God burdensome, they are either trying to complete them in their flesh, or they do not have any spiritual power with which to complete them. The result is disinterest and spiritual burnout. The collective effect of this are bloated church rolls with names of people who had a religious experience but who never experienced the power of conversion.
The Bible motivates obedience differently. Just as God gives eternal life, he gives good works for the believer to do (Eph 2:10). He bears fruit in the life of his Spirit-filled saints (Gal 5:22-23). He gives spiritual gifts for the purpose of edifying (not dividing) the church (1 Cor 12-14). And he puts desires in the hearts of his saints that he intends for them to pursue with vigor (Ps 37:4; Ezek 36:26-27).
All that to say, what God gives to the believer is not simply the capacity to do good; He gives the will and the power (Phil 2:12-13). He doesn’t save people for them to do nothing. Born again believers grow and mature–at different rates and with different results. But all spiritual children grow to look more and more like their Father in heaven.
Returning to our text, Christians’ entrance into God’s kingdom (at the end of the age) will be richly provided, because God has supplied them with the sanctifying fruits of knowledge, godliness, and love. Still, while such things are provided by God, they still must be exercised by the believer; hence the serious charge to make ones calling and election sure. Do not be lethargic. Press into these realities. Exercise the life God has given to you for the greater display of his glory! And still, with that balance in place, at the end of the age, all that the believer has done in his obedience is attributed primarily not to deserving children of God, but the amazing grace of God, and the fact that he supplies all that he solicits.
Conclusion: God Supplies All That He Solicits
In the end, 2 Peter 1:3-11 does not promote a system of faith in God plus good works by man. Instead, the true believer is walk by faith in all ages of their life, from faith to faith, they are to add virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love, so that their faith is not unadorned (cf. James 2). Moreover, they are to add to their faith these things, because God has provided them in abundance for the believer, and such is the call of all genuine disciples of Christ–to do all that he instructs–so that we might be more like him.
May we not be afraid to evaluate our lives by 2 Peter 1:5-7, and when we find ourselves lacking–and we will–may we go back to the gospel promises found in verses 3-4 before working harder to do better. The richness of our heavenly homecoming is not based on how much good WE do for God in this life, it is how much GOD has done for us as we trust in him day-in and day-out. God calls us not to create these good deeds but to walk in them. So walk in a manner worthy of gospel, letting your faith grow into all manners of Christ-exalting love.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss