January 4, 2009

Participants in the Divine Nature: 2 Peter 1:5-11

In verse 4 of chapter 1, Peter has told his readers that through God’s glory and goodness, “He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

So a natural question arises: What are those promises? Perhaps a short list would be

Eternal life.

His daily presence and guidance.

Answer to prayer.

Growing faith.



Peter classifies the promises of God into two categories: (1) promises that enable us to participate in His very nature (that is, to be like Him) and (2) promises that enable us to escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. And as we grow more and more in our faith, we are able to know more of the mind and will of God.

Peter also tolls us in verse 4 that another change has taken place in the Christian: we are “able to escape the corruption of the world caused by evil desires.” (Literal translation: “escape the corruption that is in the world through lust.”). That reminds us of Paul’s lengthy discussion about our no longer being the servant of sin but a servant of righteousness in Romans 6.

All this is an introduction to verses 5-11, which Peter starts with the words “For this very reason . . .” In other words, since you have this knowledge and standing as Christians, since you are called to “participate in the divine nature” and “escape the corruption in the world,” for this very reason, here is what to do.

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, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, 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 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 1:5-11)

Make every effort (5-7)

It is not often we think of our relationship with our Lord in terms of effort. Peter is about to tell us that since we can participate in the divine nature and since we can resist our sin nature, then we must make every effort to do so. We do so, he says, by adding certain qualities or efforts to our faith:

Goodness (or virtue). The term means moral goodness or moral excellence, such as modesty and purity: be a person of godly character. Goodness or virtue actually concerns thoughts, not just moral actions. Our actions are the evidence of what’s going on inside us.

Knowledge. Add to our goodness, knowledge. Knowledge can refer to general knowledge, knowledge of God, knowing right from wrong, or it is even used in the Bible to mean “moral wisdom.” I think that is the context here: we are to be people characterized by goodness or virtue, and we should know what that means.

Self-control (temperance). Temperance, or self-control, had a pretty narrow meaning in the first century world of the Christians. It means to master our desires and passions, especially our sensual appetites. This has been perhaps the major failing of Christians through the centuries. We know countless instances of Christians not making every effort to be temperate or self-controlled, as they pursue wealth, stature, recognition, give in to lusts, and so forth.

Remember the context of this list Peter is giving us is that we should demonstrate these qualities because we are able to participate in the divine nature and we are able to resist our sin nature. So it’s not a case where we can say “I’m just like that” or “he made me so angry I lost control.” Knowing God also gives us the ability and accountability for our thoughts and actions.

Patience/perseverance. In the New Testament, this term is often used for a person who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and righteousness by even the greatest trials and sufferings. It means not only to hang in there when times are tough, but also remember why: trials and sufferings are minor compared to the promise of our eternal presence with our Lord in heaven.

Godliness. Godliness means a reverence and respect for God in everything. We often use the term to describe moral virtue, but its original meaning is far beyond that. The moral virtue that in our day the term godliness describes originates on the inside in the Christian’s reverence and respect for God. That respect shows itself in the lifestyle we call godly.

Brotherly kindness. The root word for this kind of kindness is phileo, brotherly love. It is the kind of kindness that gives preference to the needs of a brother or sister in Christ, that yields “me-centeredness” to “you-centeredness.” Brotherly love also is a sign of the godliness in us.

Love. Peter here adds depth to brotherly kindness, the root word of which is phileo, by adding to the list love, agape. We might paraphrase: take care of each other in kindness and care about each other in love. That’s not perfect paraphrase, but it gives the idea. As we participate in the divine nature, one of the efforts we make is to be kind to each other; but not only do we show kindness, but we feel agape love.

These are core characteristics of the Christian (8-11)

Verse 8 is about our sanctification. If we possess all these qualities in increasing measure (literally: abound), then we will not be ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of Christ.

"Ineffective" often is translated “barren”; its basic meaning is lazy. “Unproductive” is better translated “unfruitful,” meaning not yielding or producing what something is supposed to produce. Both the terms are saying the same thing: the qualities Peter has listed here are core qualities of someone who is a real Christian. This verse reminds me of James’ admonition that “Faith without works is dead.”

Peter puts it differently in verse 9: there is something wrong when Christians do not demonstrate these qualities; they have forgotten what Christ did for them and whose child they are.

A person claiming to be saved but who continues to practice sin does not understand faith and trust or what God has done for him. But as one who participates in the divine nature, by doing these things you will not sin, you will not stumble in your Christian walk, you will not be offensive to God. And a rich welcome is waiting for those who do these things: “a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom,” referring to our rewards in heaven.

Remember Peter’s original audience. By now, a couple of years after he wrote to them about enduring trials and persecution, local churches were meeting.

Some of the teachers, as we will find out a little later in this letter, were teaching false doctrines, including the doctrine that virtue does not matter. Deeds have nothing to do with eternal life, they would teach, therefore live any way you want.

Peter, on the other hand, just like James 20 years earlier, gently corrects them. If you are truly saved, he is saying, then you are able to reflect the nature of God in your own nature. That is shown through goodness, knowledge, self control, perseverance, kindness, and love. If you are saved, he says, you should eagerly seek these qualities—grow in your Christian walk so that you become better and better at them. God expects it, as a natural outcome of the new nature He has put into us, and if we eagerly try to become better and better, then we will not sin.

Or to put it another way: you belong to the Lord, working at growing in these qualities proves that you belong to the Lord, and you will be rewarded for your hard work.

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