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2 Peter 1

7 Jan 2019


2 Peter 1:3–11

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (NIV)

There were many things worth studying in 2 Peter 1 and there are many such things in 2 Peter 1:3–11. I will focus on two things: (1) Peter’s list of virtues and (2) the intriguing phrase, ‘make every effort to confirm your calling and election’.

The List of Virtues

This was a hard section for me to write because I have so very little knowledge of Greek and the process of translation and understanding other languages. I have included it because by investigating these words I learnt a lot. Very little in this section comes from my own ideas or understanding but is based almost entirely on what I’ve read. I hold very loosely any conclusions I have drawn here.

Adding Virtues to Faith

There are two points to make before we look at the items in the list:

  1. This is an example of something called sorites which ‘links virtues or vices together in a series’ (Moo 1996: 50). In sorites, apart from the first and last elements, the order is not important.123

    There are many other examples of this form in the New Testament and other literature from that time period.4 One such example is Romans 5:3–4: ‘Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame’ (NIV).

  2. In ‘add to your faith goodness’, ‘add’ is not the most helpful translation. In secular usage, the word epichoregeo meant ‘to provide at one’s own expense … So perhaps “to supply” would be more accurate than “to add.” It again notes the expense, the effort involved in this growth in virtue. We do not automatically become more virtuous as if God infused virtue into us intravenously; we need to make plans and expend effort.’ (Davids 2006: 179). 56


There seem to be two possible meanings for this word translated in the NIV as ‘faith’:

  1. Faith, the basis of all Christian life, the gift of God that makes it possible to respond to his call and come to know him, and the resulting trust in God.789
  2. Faithfulness or loyalty to God in Jesus in the face of heresy.1011

Either meaning seems appropriate. Faith as gift of God that enables us to trust in Jesus makes sense as it points back to the words in verse 3: ‘His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life’. Faithfulness as loyalty to God also makes sense as 2 Peter is written against false teachers and heretics who have adopted a wrong attitude to God and his work in Jesus.

I lean towards understanding it as ‘faithfulness’ instead of simply ‘faith’ because of the apparent purpose of 2 Peter and the usage of this word in non-Christian ethical lists of the same form. Certainly, all virtue in the Christian life comes from the foundational belief in God and the indwelling of his Spirit, but I don’t think ‘faithfulness’ detracts from this in light of verses 1–4.


‘Goodness’, it seems, is what it says on the box: ‘moral excellence’, but an active moral excellence. Green says that it has a social element: ‘Since special emphasis is placed on acts that demonstrate the character, the term should not be understood as simply a recognition of the internal character of the heart. The person marked by “virtue” is engaged socially.’ (2008: 192) Lloyd-Jones says that it means “‘moral power’, or, if you like, moral energy – it means activity or vigour of the soul’ (1983: 26).12


This knowledge is the practical wisdom and discernment that one needs to live a morally excellent life (Bauckham 1983: 186). It is not ‘knowledge of Scripture per se’, but is knowledge that leads to practical action (cf. Davids 2006: 180; Green 2008: 193)1314


Self-control is another straightforward one. It’s the ability to ‘avoid falling prey to the temptations—especially sexual—that are so unavoidable in the world we live in’ (Moo 1996: 45). Green says that it refers especially ‘to consumption of food, the tongue, and sexual desire’ (2008: 193).1516


Endurance, according to Moo, is ‘the ability to “bear up under” … to remain steadfast in [one’s] faith in times of trial’ (1996: 46). Green adds that ‘Peter does not have in mind … endurance in the midst of persecution or extreme hardship but rather moral endurance amid the pressures of temptation.’ (2008: 195) On the other hand, Davids says that ‘It is the virtue needed to stand firm in one’s commitment to Jesus over the long haul in the face of persecution or other hardships’ (2006: 181). Davids goes on to say that ‘In 2 Peter the need is to stand firm in their commitment in the face of the enticements of the teachers whom our author opposes’ (ibid.), which suggests at least some agreement with Green’s understanding of ‘endurance amid the pressures of temptation’.17

The list starts with faith and ends with love and with endurance And here Peter adds a virtue ‘linked intimately’ with hope (Green 2008: 191), which completes the list of faith, hope, and love that we find throughout the New Testament (‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love’, 1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV).


I was surprised to find that I had a very flawed understanding of what ‘godliness’ meant. The word ‘godliness’ in the NIV is translated ‘duty’ by Green (cf. 2008: 181, 194). In the NIV, NLT, AMP and KJV it is translated ‘godliness’. In BDAG it is defined as ‘piety, reverence, loyalty, fear of God’. In LSJ it is defined as ‘reverence towards the gods or parents, piety or filial respect’. Louw-Nida has ‘appropriate beliefs and devout practice of obligations relation to supernatural persons and powers—religion, piety.’ This is not at all what I expected as definitions for either ‘godly’ or ‘duty’.

Green goes on to say that ‘this virtue was understood as the demonstration of due reverence and loyalty to the gods, parents, relatives, ancestors, social institutions, and fellow citizens’ (2008: 195), which indicates that I was at least not looking up the completely wrong word in these lexicons. As I read and understand them, both ‘duty’ and ‘godliness’ seem to provide only part of the meaning.

I found it hard to define what godliness meant to me, but here’s my attempt: being led by the Spirit and exhibiting certain traits of God such as love, grace, generosity, forgiveness. Nevertheless, it would appear that I am in the wrong here, for the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines godliness as ‘the reverent awareness of God’s sovereignty over every aspect of life, and the attendant determination to honor him in all one’s conduct’ (Chamblin 1996). Green’s translation of this word as ‘duty’ made me stop and think about what virtue was actually being described here.

Perhaps Lloyd-Jones put it well: ‘The first thing, of course, always, is that our relationship to God should be right.’ (1983: 30) This highlights the different idea I had of ‘godliness’ from what, it seems, is in the text. I thought it was the idea of being like God in some respect, but in fact it is the idea of having the correct relationship to God. What is the proper relationship to God? It is piety, reverence, loyalty, fear; it is, as Bauckham puts it, ‘the respect for God’s will and the moral ways of life which are inseparable from the proper religious attitude to God’ (1983: 178).1819

Mutual Affection

The word being used here is philadelphia, which means brotherly love20. In the Greco-Roman world this was an important virtue but extending it beyond blood relations was unique to Christians.21 As Davids said, ‘the NIV translation “brotherly kindness” is unfortunate and restricting, and “familial love” or “kinship affection” would be better, as long as we understand that “family” and “kin” mean fellow Christians rather than blood relatives’ (2006: 182; cf. Bauckham 1983: 187). Davids was, of course, writing before the 2011 NIV came out where the translation changed from ‘brotherly kindness’ to ‘mutual affection’, but I think his comment would still apply; it seems that the idea of the type of affection and the depth of the affection have been lost and perhaps ‘familial love’ (to be shown to fellow Christians) remains the better way to communicate this idea to us today. For me, at least, ‘familial love’ ups the ante on ‘mutual affection’.

As Green says, ‘it is a mark of corporate solidarity’ and is appropriate in 2 Peter as ‘The fabric of the community to which Peter writes is threatened by the heretics’ incursion as “many” follow their ways after being enticed. Peace is needed in this community, where the temptations to be carried away are strong.’ (2008: 195).


After talking about ‘familial love’, 2 Peter moves to the wider agape love which, though not completely different22 does have a different character, it is ‘that Spirit-given act of the will by which we treat other people with active benevolence’ (Moo 1996: 47) and is ‘to be shown to those outside the Christian family’ (Green 2008: 196). This agape love, says Green, is a ‘“cognitive emotion” that places the welfare of others in the first place’, it is not ‘passive, since as Paul notes, love labors, actively seeking to benefit others’ (2008: 196). On the same point, Davids writes that ‘the important thing to keep in mind is that love is a virtue, not an emotion’ (2006: 184).

Lloyd-Jones gives some examples of what this might mean:

Then, finally, the Apostle says, over and above the brethren, love all men – have a great charity in your heart towards all. Try to see the souls in the sinners, try to see their need; have within you a great love such as the love of God himself who ‘maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust’. Let that love reign in you, says Peter. (Lloyd-Jones 1983: 30)

Love is the climax of Peter’s sorites. Bauckham writes that, ‘love as the crowning virtue, encompasses all others’, that it ‘coordinates and unites all the other virtues’ (1983: 187). This is, of course, something we find elsewhere in scripture, such as in Colossians 3:14 where Paul writes, ‘And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity’ (NIV).

Surely it is not by chance that love, the crown of Christian virtues, comes at the climax of Peter’s staircase of Christian qualities. … Love is not only the last and greatest Christian virtue, it is also the “glue” that holds all the rest of them together, the quality without which all the others will be less than they should be. (Moo 1996: 47)

A Paraphrase

There is a lot here, so I offer this paraphrase as a summary of what I have learnt by studying this list of virtues in 2 Peter 1:

  1. Faithfulness (loyalty to God)
  2. Goodness (active moral excellence)
  3. Knowledge (wisdom and discernment)
  4. Self-control (against excesses, temptations)
  5. Endurance (amid temptation)
  6. Duty to God (piety, reverence, loyalty, fear of God)
  7. Familial love (to the family of believers)
  8. The decision to actively love (the wider family of believers, outsiders)

Confirm Your Calling and Election

Verse 10 seem strange, even in the NIV, but it’s more obvious in other translations:

Because of this, brethren, be all the more solicitous and eager to make sure (to ratify, to strengthen, to make steadfast) your calling and election; for if you do this, you will never stumble or fall. (AMP)

Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. (KJV)

The Lexham Survey of Theology defines election as ‘God’s choice of those whom he would save’ (Zaspel 2018b) and calling as ‘God’s gracious invitation by the gospel’ and ‘the means by which he brings the lost into saving relationship with Christ’ (Zaspel 2018a). Both of these words describe things that are entirely God’s work. How could I possibly, as the Amplified Bible put it, ‘strengthen’ or ‘ratify’ my calling? Or, as the King James Version put it, make these things ‘sure’? One interpretation could be that Peter is saying that God’s call and election are unsure and that, unless I start adding virtue to my faith right away, I will not be welcomed into the eternal kingdom. The very nature of God’s election and calling of Christians makes this meaning impossible, as Paul makes clear in Romans 11: ‘So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.’ (Romans 11:5–6, NIV) So, what was Peter saying?

I can see four reasons Peter encouraged his readers to confirm their calling through pursuing growth in Christian virtue:

  1. to assure the church of the Spirit’s work in their lives;
  2. to remind the church of the reality of the kingdom, of the eternal reward awaiting them;
  3. to encourage the church to be active in their faith; and
  4. to help the church see the false teachers for what they really are (and to caution them against believing their teachings).

The first two of these reasons fit well within G.L. Green’s understanding of the letter’s purpose:

2 Peter was written to assure the church of the surety of God’s eschatological promises, which had come under attack by the heretics. The promises Peter has in mind are about Christ’s coming and the new heaven and new earth, as well as the believers’ entrance into the eternal kingdom. (Green 2008: 185)

Assurance of the Spirit’s Work

Peter is about to get stuck into these false teachers. He’s about to talk about people who claim to be Christians who are ‘bringing swift destruction on themselves’ (cf. 2:1, NIV). It makes perfect sense to me that he would want to assure his readers that this would not happen to them. He says, as long as you vigorously pursue the Christian life you will not be ineffective or unproductive, on the contrary, ‘you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’. James wrote that ‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead’ (2:26, NIV) and Peter tells us how we know that our faith is alive! This should not instill abject terror in the Christian that they may lose their faith but a sure confidence in the work the Spirit is doing in them with which they are pursuing and fostering and striving to co-operate. Peter is providing his readers with evidence for themselves and for others that they are on the narrow path to God’s kingdom.

The Reality of the Kingdom and the Reward

Finally, I think that Peter wants to assure his readers that not only are they on the path to the kingdom, but that there actually is a kingdom at the end of the path. Lloyd-Jones wrote that ‘These troubles from the outside are tending to make you uncertain. These heresies within and the teaching of false teachers are having the same effect. They are shaking your faith and you are becoming uncertain.’ (1983: 32)

In 2 Peter 1:16–19, Peter offers evidence for the truth of the Apostles’ message:

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart. (1:16–19, NIV)

Along with verse 11 (‘and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom’), verse 19 (‘until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart’) reassures the readers that Jesus will come. Which seems to be something the false teachers were denying: ‘Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’” (2 Peter 3:3–4, NIV) Thus, Peter writes to say, If you want to know that your calling and election by God are certain and secure, then you must pursue the Christian life. In doing this you will see the Spirit’s work in you, you will see that you ‘participate in the divine nature’, you will see that you have ‘escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires’.

Be Active

The idea of making an effort is not foreign to the rest of the New Testament (e.g., ‘As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”’, 1 Peter 1:14–16, NIV).

Such is the danger that may await those of his readers who fail to grow in Christian virtues, for there is no standing still in the Christian life—one is either moving ahead or falling behind. (Moo 1996: 48)

The Christian must earnestly seek to grow in Christian virtue in order to ‘validate’ this calling of God. Some theologians have difficulty with the idea that Christians must work in order to validate their election and to ensure that they will not fall away. And we must carefully nuance what this means—and more importantly, what it does not mean. But we must not evaporate Peter’s language of its seriousness and strength: Striving for spiritual maturity is not an option in the Christian life. (Moo 1996: 49)

In Philippians 1:6, Paul wrote that he was ‘confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (NIV). In the very same letter to the Philippians, Paul instructs them to continue in obedience, to continue working out their salvation. But Paul doesn’t leave it there, he says, ‘work out your salvation … for it is God who works in you to will and act in order to fulfill his good purpose’ (Philippians 2:12). Paul says: (1) I am confident that God will bring the good work in you to completion, (2) you must work out your salvation, (3) for it is God who works in you. God’s effort and work is the beginning and end of our salvation yet there is still something for us to do.

Calvin himself tried to avoid any problems from 2 Peter 1:10 for his theology by arguing that ‘making sure’ of one’s election meant simply to make one’s election certain in one’s own mind. Peter was not thinking, according to Calvin, of a person’s objective status but only of that person’s subjective awareness of the status. (Moo 1996: 59)

Moo, however, was not convinced by Calvin’s argument: ‘The problem with this explanation, of course, is that Peter’s language does not seem to suggest any such subjective viewpoint’. Moo identifies himself as a Calvinist but says that there is an ‘obvious biblical emphasis on human response throughout [the salvific process]’. He says that ‘God elects; but I must believe. God preserves me until the end; but I must “put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) if I hope to find eternal life’. Moo finally says that these doctrines are ‘what some call an “antinomy”: truths that are not contradictory but which we cannot neatly reconcile either’. He summarises, saying that ‘God chooses us and ensures that we get to heaven. We need to choose God and live holy lives so that we can reach heaven.’ (1996: 59–60)

Nevertheless, it is possible to be sure of one’s salvation, for as John wrote, ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life’ (1 John 5:13, NIV).

In this situation, I think, perhaps, Peter’s aim is two-pronged: he confirms the need for human action in the salvific process and he provides a way for Christians to become ever more sure of their their election and calling through living the Christian life.

I have been blessed greatly by reading D.M. Lloyd-Jones’ sermons on 2 Peter (first delivered in 1946–1947) and have quoted them liberally in this post (and will likely continue to do so throughout this series). In a sermon entitled The Balanced Life on 2 Peter 1:5–7, he uses an illustration of a farmer to describe the relationship between God’s action and human effort in our Christian lives:

We are given the farm, we are given the implements and all that is necessary, we are given the seed. What we are called upon to do, is to farm. It is no use telling a man to farm if he has not a farm; if he is without land and without seed and without the implements, nothing can be done. But all these are given us, and therefore, having received them, we are asked to farm. But even then we are reminded that that does not guarantee the increase. ‘It is God who gives the increase.’ The farmer may plough and harrow, he may roll the land and sow the seed, but in the absence of the rain and the sunshine, and many other factors, there will be no increase. Now there, it seems to me, is the perfect balance which is ever preserved in the New Testament. (Lloyd-Jones 1983: 24)

The idea that a Christian need not pursue godliness is not present in the New Testament. But neither is the idea that we have, or indeed are able, to do it alone. As Peter said, ‘His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life’ (2:3, NIV).

We are told to make every effort to confirm our calling and election and Peter tells us how to do it: be active, pursue faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love. Something that is perhaps strange, but that I have seen countless times in my life is that that, by pursuing growth in Christian virtues, by becoming more like Jesus, I see more of him, I know him more, I become more sure of him, of who he is and what he has done, and thus more sure of my place in him, more certain that I am on the narrow path to his eternal kingdom. By growing in Christ-likeness, we ‘confirm our calling and election’. Lloyd-Jones wrote that, ‘It is a remarkable thing, but the more we do for Him the more certain we are of Him. We are not justified by works – He is our only hope. But having seen that, the more you do, the more certain you will become.’ (1983: 40)

Exposing the False Teachers

Peter is writing to a church beset by false teachers and seems to be offering a way for them to tell the difference between those who are truly Christ’s and those who only claim to be Christ’s. This is not necessarily a subjective viewpoint, or Peter would not have been able to write so strongly and unequivocally against these false teachers; no, they can know about themselves as well as about others. Those who simply claim to be called, to be part of God’s elect, but are really ‘denying the sovereign Lord’ (2:1, NIV), can be identified because they are not interested in making any effort to grow in their Christian life, because they have forgotten the (claimed) cleansing of their sins.

An Apologetic Component?

I said that I saw four reasons for Peter’s encouragement to believers to confirm their calling, but I think there may be a fifth. I left it out of my initial list because it may be too long a bow to draw – it’s not clearly present in the text. Nevertheless, I think there may be an apologetic benefit to the church in exposing false teachers.

In a sermon on 2 Peter 1:3–4, Exceeding Great and Precious Promises, Lloyd-Jones wrote that:

I, personally, am much more concerned about the state of the church than I am about the state of the world. We are all clear about the world. The world is in its muddle, its wretchedness, and unhappiness, because it is heedless of the Christian message. It does not pay any attention to the Gospel of Christ and I suggest that one chief cause of that is the fact that it does not see this quality of life in us. When it does see it, then it will begin to pay attention. (1983: 13)

2 Peter is dealing with this very thing: people whose lives do not reflect their claims to be Christian. We need to say to the world and to ourselves that this is not the Christian life. Those who deny the seriousness of sin are wrong and, if they persist in this thinking, are shown to be what they are – false teachers, false disciples – and they will not be welcomed into eternal life. Lloyd-Jones continues, ‘To the extent that you and I, and every professing Christian, manifest this divine nature, to that extent shall we by our lives convict the world of its sin and corruption, and draw and attract men and women to Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (ibid.: 21)


There are two options for the meaning of the word translated by the NIV in verse 10 as ‘stumbling’:

  1. Falling into sin (as in James 2:10; 3:2, which the NIV gives as ‘stumble’)
  2. Falling beyond recovery (as in Romans 11:11)2324

Moo poses some good questions: ‘How does Peter’s stress on our own effort to become godly fit with the New Testament emphasis on the Spirit as the one who sanctifies us?’ and ‘How can Peter, then, make it seem that our own effort is crucial?’ (1996: 56) And though it seems to me that Peter’s primary purpose in writing was to encourage the believers and denounce the heretics, there does seem to be a component of warning his audience not to fall into the same error as the false teachers and therefore there must be a possibility of that happening. But, as I have noted earlier, God’s call and election are entirely his work and none that God has chosen will be lost for, as Jesus says, ‘And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:39, NIV). So, Moo’s questions remain.

Calvin understood 2 Peter 1:10 to mean ‘simply to make one’s election certain in one’s own mind’ (Moo 1996: 59) but Moo rejects this explanation saying that ‘Peter’s language does not seem to suggest any such subjective viewpoint’ (ibid.). Bauckham also rejects Calvin’s (and Luther’s) interpretation: ‘This passage does not mean that moral progress provides the Christian with a subjective assurance of his election (the sense it was given by Luther and Calvin, and especially in seventeenth-century Calvinism), but that the ethical fruits of Christian faith are objectively necessary for the attainment of final salvation.’ (1983: 190) Moo suggests, and I tend to agree, that ‘Calvinists have often been guilty of … [losing] sight of the obvious biblical emphasis on human response throughout the process.’ (1996: 59)

God elects, but I must believe. God preserves me until the end, but I must ‘put to death the misdeeds of the body’ if I hope to find eternal life (Romans 8:13). Both are taught in Scripture, and we must affirm both if we are to remain biblical. (Moo 1996: 59)

Although we should not obscure the variety of the NT teaching about salvation, this passage is not so obviously in conflict with Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith as is often supposed. (1) The author of 2 Peter is concerned with the ethical fruits of faith and with moral effort which is only possible through grace. (2) Paul can also regard the ethical fruits of faith as necessary for salvation, even in Galatians, when countering the dangers of libertinism. (3) If our author seems to emphasize man’s role in his salvation, the context should be remembered. His readers were in danger of moral apostasy, under the influence off teachers who evidently held that immorality incurred no danger of judgment. (Bauckham 1983: 190–191, emphasis original)

So, as I have said earlier, our salvation begins and ends with God, but that there seems to be a human component in the middle. This, too, according to Paul, is enabled and empowered by the spirit: ‘For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.’ (Romans 8:13, NIV) In Romans 14:4, Paul says that ‘To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand’ (NIV). Nevertheless, Peter encourages believers to ‘make every effort to confirm [their] calling and election’.

Moo says that ‘we face here what some call an “antinomy”: truths that are not contradictory but which we cannot neatly reconcile either. God chooses us and ensures that we get to heaven. We need to choose God and live godly lives so that we can reach heaven.’ (1996: 60)

The parable of the sower in which Jesus talked about four outcomes from hearing the gospel comes to mind (Matthew 13:1ff): (1) where the seed was eaten by birds immediately, (2) where plants grew but withered in the sun because they had no roots, (3) where plants grew but were choked by thorns, and (4) where the soil was good and the plants grew and were fruitful. If you do not pursue the Christian life and you do fall away, if you do fall into apostasy, you are showing yourself to be in one of the first three situations: not having truly received and been reborn by the Spirit. In the second and third situations, there is growth, there is a plant, but the plant is not fruitful. It is possible to give the impression of Christian life without actually having it – for a time.

In Philippians 1, Paul says that he is ‘confident … that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (1:6, NIV). How does Paul know that God has begun a good work in them? It seems to me that he knows ‘because of [their] partnership in the gospel from the first day until now’ (1:5, NIV). He has seen the fruitfulness that can only come from seed planted in good soil, from the rebirth by the Spirit given to God’s elect.

I don’t know how to fully reconcile these viewpoints, but here is my current working theory: God’s purpose in calling and electing us is to transform us (‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’, Romans 12:2, NIV) and the way this transformation occurs is not by a sudden, immediate infusion of virtue, but by the lasting character change that comes from the slow, difficult, arduous work of actively pursuing these virtues. To put it another way, God could just change us overnight by overriding our will and desires and personality, but he instead gives us the power of the Spirit so that instead our will changes as we know him more. This perhaps explains the emphasis in the Bible on human effort in our sanctification. It is also possible that, by pursuing God earnestly, those for whom the word has not produced fruit (those who have not met God in a deep way), will come to know him and will receive saving faith.25

There is a remaining question: Is it possible to become apostate, to renounce God and Jesus and his saving work for us? Is it possible to say to the Spirit, ‘No, I don’t want you in my life anymore’? There are passages in the Bible that at least appear to suggest this. I believe that, if you do reject God in this way, you are showing your ‘calling and election’ to have not been real, that is, you were never really a Christian, you were one of the first four soils in Jesus’ parable – you gave the appearance of saving faith, but instead you were only believing by your own will, not by the Spirit. Nevertheless, I am open to the idea of apostasy in this way: the Spirit is available to all, you had a genuine experience of the Spirit, you were given a new life, but you rejected the Spirit, which God new ahead of time, you were a genuine believer, your sins were genuinely forgiven (for, as it says in John 3:16, the offer is open to all), but you were not part of God’s elect, you were not chosen by God to persevere.

I’m sure I will continue to learn and form my understanding on this for years to come. I’ll end with some comments that gave me pause for thought (and made me leave the door open to the classic notion of apostasy) as I studied 2 Peter 1:



BDAG: Arndt, W et al. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.

Louw-Nida: Louw, JP & Nida, EA 1996, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains.

LSJ: Liddell, HG et al. 1996, A Greek-English Lexicon.

Other Works

Bauckham, RJ 1983, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary, Word Books, Dallas, Texas.

Chamblin, JK 1996, Godly, Godliness. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.

Davids, PH 2006, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Green, GL 2008, Jude and 2 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI.

Harris, WH, III, 2010, The Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament: SBL Edition, Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Lloyd-Jones, D 1983, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh.

Moo, DJ 1996, 2 Peter, Jude, The NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Zaspel, FG 2018a, Calling. In M. Ward et al., eds. Lexham Survey of Theology. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Zaspel, FG 2018b, Election. In M. Ward et al., eds. Lexham Survey of Theology. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

  1. ‘Once we recognize, then, this “form” in verses 5–7, we will be reluctant to insist that the order of virtues in Peter’s list must correspond to the order in which we are to produce them. Peter knows that all of them are important and that entrance into God’s kingdom requires that we be exhibiting these qualities “in increasing measure.”’ (Moo 1996: 51) 

  2. Such lists are progressive and culminate in the summum bonum of the ethical system embraced by their author, which in the case of 2 Peter 1:5–7 and Paul is “love.”’ (Green 2008: 191) 

  3. ‘The meaning of the clause must be: “by means of your faith supply virtue,” i.e., each virtue is the means of producing the next. … We must conclude that we are dealing with a conventional form, based on the notion that the virtues are interconnected so that in the virtuous life one develops out of another. … the order in which the virtues are listed is largely random. … Only two virtues have a clearly intelligible place in the list: ‘faith’ in first place and ‘love’ in last place.’ (Bauckham 1983: 184–185) 

  4. Galatians 5:22–26 (the fruit of the Spirit), Romans 5:1–5 (‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope’, NIV), 2 Corinthians 6:6–7, Ephesians 6:14–17, Philippians 4:8, Colossians 3:12–14, 1 Timothy 3:2–3, 6:11, Titus 1:7–8, Titus 3:1–2, James 3:17–18, Revelation 2:19. ‘This form of ethical instruction … was a well-recognized mode of moral teaching in ancient literature’ (Green 2008: 190). 

  5. ‘Give, grant; supply, furnish; support’ (BDAG), ‘supply, furnish; provide for’ (LSJ), ‘to provide for, to support, to supply the needs of, provision, support’ (Louw-Nida). 

  6. ‘Having climaxed his virtue list in a very Christian way with love, our author goes on to describe the Christian life as a process. Many Christians wish that their growth in Christ were a series of crises in which holiness and other virtues were suddenly infused into them. That is not 2 Peter’s point of view. Instead our author talks about growth in virtue, process instead of crisis.’ (Davids 2006: 184, emphasis original) 

  7. ‘Faith, of course, is the foundational Christian virtue (or, better, gift); with it we respond to God’s call and come to know him and his Son, the Lord Jesus.’ (Moo 1996: 45) 

  8. ‘God gives the inward capacity which makes everything possible; without that we can do nothing and we are not asked to do anything. But, having been given, and having received that gift, then nothing is more important than that we should give ourselves with all our energy to spiritual culture, and to the development of the Christian life.’ (Lloyd-Jones 1983: 25) 

  9. ‘At the beginning point of such Christian lists, it is not the “loyalty” which appears in some pagan Hellenistic lists of virtues, but the specifically Christian “faith” in the gospel which is the basis of all Christian life. By representing faith as the root of all the virtues, the writer of 2 Peter is illustrating what he said in v 3: that Christ “has bestowed on us everything necessary for a godly life, through the knowledge of himself.” That knowledge of Christ is received by faith.’ (Bauckham 1983: 185) 

  10. ‘The first virtue of Peter’s list is “faith”. In the NT, “faith” is commonly understood as trust in God or the gospel itself. But when viewed within the frame of moral virtue, pistis means “faithfulness” or “reliability”. … Insofar as Peter’s fundamental concern is to caution the church against the error of the heretics, placing “faithfulness” at the head of the virtue catalog is a strategic move. They are called to maintain this loyalty to their benefactor, as anyone in ancient society would have understood.’ (Green 2008: 192) 

  11. ‘The term for faith would be translated “faithfulness” if it were in a non-Christian ethical list … That is probably what 2 Peter means here, for in typical Christian fashion faithfulness and love bracket the list. This Christian structure indicates that it is not faithfulness in general that our author is concerned about but faithfulness or commitment to God in Jesus, that is, specifically Christian commitment.’ (Davids 2006: 179) 

  12. See also Moo 1996: 45, Davids 2006: 179 and Bauckham 1983: 185–186. 

  13. Bauckham says that ‘gnosis [knowledge] here is the wisdom and discernment which the Christian needs for a virtuous life and which is progressively acquired. It is practical rather than purely speculative wisdom.’ (1983: 186). 

  14. ‘“Knowledge” … probably does not refer to that basic, intimate knowledge of God that defines who we are in Christ. Here, it most likely refers specifically to the ability to discern God’s will and orient one’s life in accordance with that will.’ (Moo 1996: 45; cf. Lloyd-Jones 1983:27–28) 

  15. ‘For 2 peter this is a very important virtue because (1) the teachers our author opposes are in no way self-controlled but rather given to desire, and (2) it fits the general Hellenistic ethical milieu in which he is writing. Given that this commentary is being written in a culture of growing obesity, in which consumption and self-indulgence are virtually viewed as human rights, we would do well to pay more attention to Peter’s emphasis on virtue.’ (Davids 2006: 180–181) 

  16. ‘The Christian, too, needed to be self-disciplined and not indulge his physical desires to excess. It is perhaps worth noticing that in Galatians 5:23 it occurs in the context of warning against the misuse of Christian freedom in libertinism, which is also the problem in 2 Peter and 2 Clem.’ (Bauckham 1983: 186) 

  17. ‘The word refers to courageous and steadfast endurance in the face of suffering or evil … In Jewish and early Christian usage the endurance is associated not with personal bravery or Stoic detachment, but with the believer’s trust in God and hope for the fulfillment of God’s promises.’ (Bauckham 1983: 186) 

  18. ‘In the fabric of the social reality of Peter’s readers, the virtue points up the necessity of loyalty to God and to the community in which the readers are embedded. As such, it stands opposite the way the heretics have denied the Lord and the way others are abandoning the truth in order to follow them. Given the overarching benefactions that have come from God, the believers are called to fulfill their duty towards him.’ (Green 2008: 195–196) 

  19. ‘In the Greek world this virtue pointed to appropriate relationships toward the authorities in one’s life: the gods, dead ancestors, and family/parents. … The point is that this virtue indicates appropriate respect and reverence toward the deity and those associated with him or her; which is also expressed in respect to those relationships that he has sanctioned.’ (Davids 2006: 181) 

  20. ‘The first word he uses is philadelphia, ‘love of the brother,’ or, as NIV renders it, ‘brotherly kindness.’ In distinction from the second word, the familiar agapephiladelphia probably refers to love expressed among fellow Christians.’ (Moo 1996: 46–47) 

  21. ‘The term indicated acts of affection and generosity among physical kin, which were quite important in [the Greco-Roman] world and yet which did not extend beyond kin. … What is unique in [the Christian] setting is the fact that this familial love was extended to the whole Christian family; that is, all believers were treated as if they were physical kin. … This is the basis for exchanging the kiss, which was normally not exchanged except among family and close friends, and for the sharing of goods, for functioning families shared with members in need. (Davids 2006: 182) 

  22. Agape, then, is not a completely different love, but embraces “love of the brethren” as one sphere of Christian love in its fullest scope’ (Moo 1996: 47). 

  23. ‘But most commentators think that the “stumbling” here is of a final nature, denoting a fall that prevents one from getting to heaven. They are probably correct. The “stumbling” here is the opposite of “receiving a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 11) and seems to be equivalent to the “falling” that Jude contrasts with being presented faultless before the Lord in the last day (Jude 24).’ (Moo 1996: 49) 

  24. ‘The metaphor must rather be given the same sense as in Jude 24: it refers to the disaster of not reaching final salvation.’ (Bauckham 1983: 191) 

  25. ‘This teaching may sit uncomfortably with some people’s theology, but it is the other side of the coin that has on one side that God makes us firm and on this side that we make our own salvation firm. And it is our side of the coin that the believers 2 Peter addresses need to hear, for they have, among them some who think that their salvation is firm enough without their pursuing any of the virtues that our author recommends.’ (Davids 2006: 188)