What God Commands, He Gives: A Reflection on 2 Peter 1:3-11

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.

Four Clues 

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

Beware of “Do-It-Yourself Christianity”

Yesterday I preached on Galatians 2:17-21, and in my sermon I emphasized  the dangers of “Do-It-Yourself Christianity.”  I described it as the kind of Christianity that arises from a debtor’s ethic, one where someone  saved by grace tries to ‘repay’ God for his grace.  Paul adamantly opposed to this grace-nullifying kind of Christianity (Gal 2:21) and warned the Galatians and us to beware of working out in the flesh what God gives only by faith and the power of the Spirit.

Wonder if you suffer from Do-It-Yourself Christianity?  Here are ten symptoms which might indicate an emphasis on living the Christian life in the power of the flesh.

  1. If you ever pray, “God help me to be the best Christian I can be.”
  2. If you take pride that you are not like those other people.
  3. If you believe Christ died and rose again, but you do not know how those events impact your daily life.
  4. If “What Would Jesus Do?” summarizes your understanding of the Bible and Christianity.
  5. If you base your Christian faith on the “decision” you made and/or the “aisle you walked,” instead of the death Jesus died and the life he gives you by faith in him.
  6. If prayerlessness marks your daily life.
  7. If, in the words of Robert Fulghum, you learned all you needed to know about God, the Bible, and Jesus in VBS and Sunday School.
  8. If putting to death the deeds of the flesh means simply continuing to maintain the manmade barriers–no smoking, no drinking, no cussing, no long hair, etc.– instead of learning to walk by faith and love the unloveable (among other things) in the power of the Spirit.
  9. If confessing sin sounds something like this, “God forgive me for the things I have done, whatever they are.”  When the Spirit convicts, He pinpoints specific areas of sin and disobedience.
  10. If fear of doing wrong moves you to separate from ‘sinners’ and establish greater barriers to protect you from sin, instead of walking in the Spirit, praying for the lost and asking God to make you a Spirit-filled vessel whom God can use to shine light into the darkness (cf Gal 5:16).

Bottom line, do-it-yourself Christianity is trusting in yourself to continue what Christ has begun.  When you compare that mindset to that of the Apostle Paul and Jesus Christ, you will soon realize that such thinking is bankrupt of the gospel.  Gospel living is a life marked by daily repentance and fresh faith in the living and active word of God.  Salvation is not marked by checking a box, but is marked out by Spirit-produced fruit (cf Gal 5:22-23).  Sadly, American Christianity is rife with do-it-yourself Christianity.  It is a kind of religion that confesses Jesus, but denies his power.

May we repent of our self-reliance and learn to walk by faith in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

In need of the gospel more today than yesterday, dss

An Audio-Visual Primer on the New Perspective on Paul

What is the New Perspective on Paul?

Over the last few months, this subject along with the biblical doctrine of justification has caught a lot of media attention.  From the release of John Piper’s book on the subject confronting N.T. Wright (2007), to Wright’s response (2009), to the series of panels and discussions found here at SBTS (2009), there is much that has been said. 

In case you haven’t had the chance to keep up with the discussion–one that is important and having an impact in the church already (think: Rob Bell and Brian McLaren)– here is your chance.   Here is a run-down of four online resources that can help fill in the gaps and get a handle on the New Perspective, which really isn’t new at all (read Galatians).

(1) Last Spring, Dean of Boyce College, Denny Burk led a panel discussion on the subject of N.T. Wright’s new book, Assessing the Piper-Wright Debate on JustificationBurk was joined by SBTS professors Tom Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, and Brian Vickers.

(2) As a follow up, on September 8, 2009, Albert Mohler led a panel discussion with SBTS Professors Tom Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, Denny Burk, Brian Vickers and N.T. Wright and the Doctrine of Justification. VideoAudio.

(3) Just before the panel on-campus, Albert Mohler, on his radio program, interviewed John Piper and Ligon Duncan to converse about justification by faith and the New Perpective on Paul.  The Challenge Of The New Perspective To Biblical Justification (August 27, 2009).

(4) Today, Tom Schreiner lectured on this subject as well.  Here are his 4 majors points:

  1. Proponents of the New Perspective are too optimistic in their re-constructions of Second Temple Judaism.  
  2. The New Perspective misreads the works of the laws, even if they contribute some helpful nuances in understanding the Judaism into which Christ and Christianity was born.
  3. The New Perspective wrongly argues that Paul was only called, not converted.  In truth, Paul saw a radical distinction between his life before and after his Damascus Road encounter with the risen Christ (cf. Acts 9, 22, 26).
  4. The New Perspective misunderstands justification as being only covenantal faithfulness.  The righteousness of God fulfills the covenant through judgment and salvation, but justification is not co-extensive with covenant faithfulness.

(The audio is not up yet (9/16/2009), but will be soon.  Check SBTS Resources).

In sum, the New Perspective on Paul is a major issue in New Testament studies, systematic theology, and in the church at large today.  Through the popular works of N.T. Wright it is becoming more mainstream as it appeals to growing anti-Western notions in society and as it diminishes the God’s justice meted out on those whose sin offends his holiness.  That is news that every sinner wants to hear, its just not the biblical gospel (cf. Rom. 1:1-7).  In the end, it redefines and distorts grace.

The New Perspective, as a theological subject, is one that faithful teachers of God’s word should become conversant with, in order to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. 

Suggested Bibliography (in chronological order):

Thomas Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (1993)

D.A. Carson, P.T. O’Brien, and Mark Seifrid (eds.), Justification and Variegated Nominism: Volume I: Complexities of 2nd Temple Judaism. (2001)

D.A. Carson, P.T. O’Brien, and Mark Seifrid (eds.), Justification and Variegated Nominism: Volume II: Paradoxes in Paul. (2004)

Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The ‘Lutheran’ Paul and His Critics (2004)

Brian Vickers, Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Imputation (2006)

John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright. (2007)

N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (2009)

By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone, dss