Peter and Jude, Part 4

Within the spectrum of orthodox Christianity there exists a tension between the idea of “works” and “grace.” So before we got too much further in this study, let’s make it clear from the beginning: There are no works involved in salvation. Nobody earns their salvation. Nobody’s good works touches God’s heart enough for Him to save their soul. Salvation is entirely a work of grace, initiated by God and appropriated by one’s faith in His Son’s work on the Cross.

In terms of maintaining or keeping your salvation, works are useless. Here’s how Jude put it in his brief letter:

To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude, vs 24, 25 | NIV84)

It’s God who keeps us saved, not our good works. Of course, that doesn’t mean once we are saved we can just go ahead and live any way we want to. That would be ridiculous. Paul ran into a bunch of Christians who thought just that way, and here’s what he thought of that preposterous notion:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (Romans 6:1 | NIV84)

Those are good questions. Should we just sin, knowing that God in His grace will forgive us, anyway? As Paul would later say, “No way!” That’s a paraphrase, of course, but it captures how he felt. It is God who keeps us saved, not our good works, but we have a responsibility to live out our faith in the world and that necessarily involves doing good works. Peter addressed this tension in his second letter:

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:10, 11 | NIV84)

The “these things” are – guess what – works! According to Peter, we make our “calling and election,” or our salvation “sure!” And if we do these good works, we will “never fall!” Is Peter teaching something different than Jude and Paul? It sounds like it, but he really isn’t. Let’s take a closer look at this and you’ll see that there really is no tension between the “works” crowd and the “grace” bunch.

Interesting characteristics of 2 Peter

Peter’s second letter is a little different from his first. One of the really interesting features of this letter is the number of time he uses certain words.

• There are 10 references to right, righteousness, and righteous;
• There are 17 references to knowledge and understanding;
• There are 16 references to Jesus Christ;
• There are 5 calls to remember.

What this shows us is what was foremost on Peter’s mind. Christians need to be righteous and live righteously. We can do this using the knowledge we gain from learning the right doctrines in Scripture, and paying attention to the example of Jesus Christ. When we remember what we’ve been taught and what the Lord has saved us from, we should want to live righteous lives in spite of the sin all around us. Perhaps the best verse that summarizes the overall teaching of this short letter is this one:

Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:17, 18 | NIV84)

Sufficient for Life and Godliness

This letter was written near the end of Peter’s life. Some scholars feel like Peter wrote it as a kind of farewell message to buck up Christians; to encourage them to stay the course of faith and not be lured away by a new wave of false teaching.

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2, 3 | NIV84)

He’s writing to primarily Gentile believers who had received the same faith he and Jewish believers received; their new faith was just “as precious as ours.” This represents a bit of change for Peter. His first letter was addressed to suffering Jewish Christians who needed to be encouraged while in the midst of trials and tribulations. Here, his readers were Gentiles who may not have been suffering the same kind of persecution, but may have been tempted to give up on their faith and go back to the kind lives they have before.

“Grace and peace” are key components of salvation, neither of which may be obtained or experienced apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ. Peter wished both “grace” and “peace” be multiplied in the lives of his readers. That makes sense; those are wonderful blessings from God, and who wouldn’t want friends to have more of a good thing? But Peter adds a surprising word: knowledge; and it’s very significant. The Gentiles to whom Peter wrote this letter were being tricked into believing destructive false teachings from those who claimed to have a true knowledge of God and Christ, but who lived very immoral lives. “Knowledge” was probably one of their buzz words; they claimed to have a supernatural knowledge nobody else had. Peter, for his part, wasn’t afraid to talk about what TRUE knowledge of God brings into one’s life: grace and peace. We receive both of those blessings at our conversion, but they grow and multiply the more we read Scripture and seek to understand it. The Christian life is all about growth, not standing still, and growth is completely dependent on knowing more and more about God and Christ. And as the believer acquires more and more of that kind of knowledge, grace and peace will flow like crazy into his life.

Promises Plus Work

As Christians, we get so much from God. It really is astounding when you stop and give some thought to all that you received when you confessed Christ as Savior. We have tremendous blessings and promises from God for both this life now and our lives into the future. But wet-blanket-Peter slaps us upside the head with a big dose of reality.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith… (2 Peter 1:5a | NIV84)

The phrase, “for this very reason,” points us back to verse 3:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3 | NIV84)

God has given us everything necessary to live the Christian life, so we have no excuse to sit back and be lazy. God’s amazing grace – the grace we sing about all the time – demands that we exert an effort to “do our part” to add to what God so graciously provided for free. In other words, because of everything God did for us, we need to do more. As one Bible scholar has noted,

The Christian life is like the use of power steering on a car. The engine provides the power for the steering, but the driver must actually turn the wheel.

He’s spot on. God has given us all the power needed to steer our lives, but first we must turn the wheel. In a very real  sense, each Christian determines not only the quality of his life, but also the course of it.

Just what are the things believers should add to their faith? There are seven in all that Peter mentions. There are more, but we’ll stick with his list. They’re all found verses 5 to 7:

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, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. (2 Peter 1:5b – 7 | NIV84)

Virtue (or goodness) vs. 5

To faith, believers must add virtue, or moral excellence. As we have noted, the Christian life begins with faith and is carried on with faith – without faith nobody can please God. But to our faith we must add “virtue” or “goodness.” What good is it to possess all this faith yet be a miserable, cantankerous, morally challenged, cranky old cuss nobody can get along with? Christians should strive to be, simply put, decent, kind people who care.

Knowledge, vs. 5

But at the same time, faith is not blind or esoteric in nature. To faith, we must add some knowledge; that is, knowledge of God. The foundational idea underpinning Peter’s philosophy is that we will be living in obedience to God and His will, and therefore, we need knowledge of that, which is essentially knowledge of God Himself, as revealed in His Word. This kind of knowledge has nothing to do things we may learn in school or other places, and is not worldly in origin:

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. (1 Peter 1:14 | NIV84)

Self-control, vs. 6

Faith and knowledge are both key, vital parts of our lives, but those in and of themselves are not near enough. We need to know how to use what we’ve learned; there must be a common sense connection between knowledge and conduct. James, in his letter tackled this issue by saying:

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. (James 4:17 | NIV84

Knowing and doing are two different things that must come together, which they do when we practice self-control. The Greek word is funny looking and funnier sounding, egkrateia, and has something to do with temperance. It’s one of the fruit of the Spirit, meaning this kind of self-control is not native to human beings; it must be put there by a work of the Holy Spirit as we allow Him to do that. “Self-control” is an adequate translation that puts across the idea that believers must not yield to their base, sinful desires. But “self-control” doesn’t go quite far enough. Perhaps “God-control” would be a little better, because it is only when we assign control of our temperament to God that we can be truly self-controlled.

Godliness, vs. 6

The Greek word here means “devout.” It’s something that nobody can manufacture; you are either devout or you aren’t. You can’t pretend to be Godly; Godliness is a virtue that comes from God Himself; He gives it to you. This is also a fruit of the Spirit, and the more we allow God to possess of us, the more like Him we will become. Godliness is simply taking on God’s attributes.

Perseverance, vs. 6

Of all the character traits believers should exhibit, I think this is the most admirable. James did, too. Here’s what he wrote about the subject:

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12 | NIV84)

The word means “to stick to it.” Essentially, a believer needs to be able to “hang on” and not give up no matter what. This, of course, takes determination and single-minded devotion to the task at hand, even if that task is simply maintaining one’s faith during difficult periods in life.

Brotherly love, vs. 7

This is a special kind of love. It’s a genuine love for the people of God. It’s not a love a believer has for those outside of the family God, though you should love them, too, as God does. But brotherly love is a love shared only with brothers and sisters in Christ.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10 | NIV84)

That’s the idea Peter is getting at, and it’s a unique feature of the church that people outside seem to be most attracted to. Love, honor, and respect are in short supply in the world, and when the lost see them manifested within the a local church, it’s something they want.

Love, vs. 7

The love that exists between members of the Body of Christ comes from the Greek word philadelphia. But there is another kind of love that we need to add to philadelphia, and that’s agape love. It’s a much deeper love – it’s the God-love that is unconditional and unearned. It is the highest form of love and ought to mark the Christian lifestyle.

The results

Peter tells us that when these virtues are working in our life, four results will immediately follow:

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 if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:8-11 | NIV84)

In case you don’t see them, the four results are:

• Increased fruitfulness.
• A proper perspective – the ability to see afar off.
• An assured perseverance. In other words, these virtues won’t keep you saved, but they will enable you “keep the faith.”
• A guaranteed welcome into heaven.

Peter is nothing of not practical. He knows that if we do not add to our faith, we will become idle, and as we read in Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee:

Idleness is the root of mischief.

Even our Lord understood the importance of keeping busy with the good work:

Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 | NIV84)

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