Covenant and 2 Peter 1.3-4
2 Peter 1.3-4 (ESV) is one of the most complete descriptions of the plan of salvation that one can find in the New Testament. Peter’s opening salvo in this great letter to his fellow Christians has so much contained within this one massive sentence that trying to piece it all together can be a bit of a challenge. No less than 5 times in this one sentence we have words/phrases such as “through”, “by which”, and “because”, chaining together thought after thought in almost a run-on fashion. (Apparently what my high school English teacher complained so much about in my papers wasn’t frowned upon in the 1st century.)
The structure of this sentence is fascinating because it seems to focus our attention on one singular concept within this entire passage. To see this, we start by noticing how the passage begins and ends. The opening and closing words of a section of scripture often serve as a type of bookend, either by being the same (ex.: Judges 17.6 & 21.25), or as opposites (ex.: Hosea 1.4-8 & 4.21-22). 2 Peter 1.3-4 begin and end with two opposing themes: “His divine power” (v.3) vs. “sinful desire” (v.4). In other words, on opposite ends of this passage we find God and men. God, which is the definition of all that is good and holy and righteous, contrasted with man’s desire, which is set on himself and his wants.
As we move further inward in the passage we find that both opposing concepts have each influenced mankind. God “has granted to us” something, and mankind’s sinful desire has also caused something to happen: “because of”. What has each side done? In God’s case, He has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness”, which is true in the general sense of the creation (Genesis 1-2) as well as in the specific context of this verse through Jesus Christ. What has mankind’s “sinful desire” accomplished? “the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (v.4) Our sinful desire to disobey the Father and refuse to submit to Him has been met with disastrous results. It is from the mortal consequences of this decision that mankind needs rescue, or as Peter describes the effect of being in Christ, “having escaped from the corruption that is in the world” (v.4, emphasis mine).
Mankind’s desperate need for an escape from the consequences of their sin prompts God to act on our behalf. What God has done, and the effects of His actions are highlighted next as we move one more phrase inward. Through what means has God “granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” to those who have been corrupted? “the knowledge of him who has called us to his own glory and excellence” (v.3). In short, through knowing Jesus Christ! This thought has already been mentioned exactly one verse earlier in 2 Peter 1.2, and it is one he will return to in v.8. Peter was present when Jesus prays to the Father in John 17.3: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The effect that knowing Christ has, the blessing of God’s promises to us and the purpose behind the sending of His Son, is described in 2 Peter 1.4: “you may become partakers of the divine nature”. Mankind gave up goodness, holiness, and eternal life first through the Garden, and by their choices afterwards. The knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the faith that inspires, is the path by which mankind may return to that which was lost, the ability to dwell with God once more and be “partakers of the divine nature”.
All this leads up to what would be the central phrase of the passage. God’s divine power has granted us the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the resulting call to Jesus’ glory and excellence. What does this accomplish? “by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises” (v.4 emphasis mine). In short, God has chosen to enter a covenant with mankind once again. Notice that God’s promises are given two very important adjectives: “precious and very great”, indicating that the promises themselves are of utmost importance. God’s covenants with mankind make up the most important turning points found in the scriptures: God’s initial covenant with mankind (Don’t eat of the tree: Gen. 2.16-17), followed by one promising a future victory over Satan through Christ (Gen. 3.15). The list goes on: Cain (4.15), Noah (Gen. 6.18; 8.20-21), Abram (Gen. 12,1-3, etc. It is by God’s promise, God’s covenant made to us through Jesus Christ that mankind can become “partakers of the divine nature” and escape the results of our sinful desires.
In closing, it is appropriate to recognize one key characteristic of covenants. Covenants require faithfulness on BOTH sides of the agreement. God’s faithfulness to His covenants has been demonstrated beyond doubt and cannot be called into question. Mankind, however, is another story. Why would Peter, through inspiration, instruct his readers to “make every effort” (v.7) to supplement our faith with godly characteristics, to “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” (v.10), and “remind you of these qualities, though you know them” (v.12)? Covenants are agreements made with commitment and sustained with memory. We must keep our covenant with God in the forefront of our minds, seeking to grow in our knowledge and imitation of Jesus Christ, not being willing to return to the corruption of this world from which God sent His Son to save us. We must be committed to the covenant that we have entered with God and seek each day to “press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Phil. 3.12).