Faith, Fruit, and 2 Peter 1.5-8
As we looked at in more detail last week, the covenant that God has made with mankind through the “knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1.3) requires memory-inspired action on our part. We do this because we have been rescued by God, “having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (v.4). The main point that is made in the next section (2 Peter 1.5-8) is that once we have been rescued, the work has only just begun. Covenants are not one-time agreements, they are sustained, long-term commitments that require ongoing action from both parties. In this section the Holy Spirit shows us what being spiritually fruitful is going to look like, as well as the contrast between those who increase their spiritual qualities and those who have “forgotten” the covenant that was made.
Peter begins this section with “For this very reason” (v.5). We should treat this phrase as we commonly do (or should do) the word “Therefore”: by backing up and making sure we understand the preceding information. The proper, biblical response to being freed from sin and its consequences is an ongoing journey to supplement one’s faith with godly attributes. In other words, Christians who are saved “by grace…through faith” (Ephesians 2.8) now must make the imitation of Jesus Christ their highest priority. We see this even earlier in the text in 2 Peter 1.3 where Christ is referred to as He “who called us to his own glory and excellence” (emphasis mine). In this quest we are to “make every effort” (v.5), to leave no stone unturned in our lives, to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12.2). A faith that does not inspire maximum effort and diligence to be like Christ in every aspect of our lives is either dead or soon will be.
One should notice in v.5-7 that not only are the characteristics growing in their relative importance to one another, but also the number of them. “Virtue… knowledge… self-control… steadfastness… godliness… brotherly affection… love”. This is of course not a list dictating the order in which these qualities are to be added to the life of a Christian, nor are they a comprehensive list of everything that is to be involved in our imitation of Jesus. Rather this is a way of saying “in an emphatic manner, that we are to strive to possess and exhibit all these virtues” (Barnes). The use of seven qualities seems to be a specific indication that we are to seek completeness or perfection in our walk as Christians, to be like Jesus in every possible sense.
2 Peter 1.8 provides us with an important “if-then” construction, even if the word “then” isn’t present. There is a clear “If this happens, then this happens” structure being used in this verse: “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.” We can note here the importance of these qualities being present-tense in the life of a Christian. There is no such thing as being “grandfathered in” in the Kingdom of Heaven. Christians are called not to have been loving in the past, but to be loving now. Christians are not called to have been good teachers, or good students, or knowledgeable, but to be those things right now.
We also see the importance of growing in these virtues. IF your love for God and your brethren (the two greatest commands, you will remember: Matthew 22.36-39) are not growing, you do not satisfy the requirement of this verse. If Christians are satisfied with their knowledge, or their self-control, they are like a plant or tree or a child that suddenly stops growing. In all these cases, we readily recognize something is very wrong, and yet how seldom do we see this as a problem with our faith!!!
Finally, in v.8 we see the product of possessing and progressing in these virtues. The NASB words the final section: “they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The thought of being changed, or being rendered, into someone who is useful and fruitful to the LORD should be an exciting prospect to a child of God. We often worry whether we are being fruitful for the LORD. This passage can serve to settle our minds a bit: if we are diligently seeking to be more self-controlled, more knowledgeable, more steadfast, more kind to our brethren, and so forth, we can rest assured that we will not be found as unprofitable servants when we meet the LORD. These are the actions of a Christian who has remembered their state before entering covenant with God through the blood of Christ, formerly being “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2.1) but now acting as one who has been freed from sin to walk in “newness of life” (Romans 6.4).
2 Peter 1.9 shows us the opposite side of the coin from v.8. For a Christian to lack these qualities seems absurd, but time and experience has shown this to be the case among even brethren. If only we had a Biblical example of a people who entered a covenant with God only to forget that covenant and stop behaving as God’s chosen people…
The Israelites should instantly pop into our minds when we read 2 Peter 1.9! This is precisely what happened with them, in the Old Testament again and again the people of Israel are condemned by God specifically because they had forgotten what He had done for them in delivering them from the land of Egypt. Their having forgotten what God had done for them is linked directly to their decisions to forsake Him and seek after other gods. 2 Peter 1.9 shows that Christians today who neglect or eject these virtues from their lives have “forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” In other words, they have forgotten their own personal exodus from the bondage of sin and death. We also see the “near-sighted” nature of this sort of behavior among Christians: they are blind to what is coming afar off yet approaches quickly day by day. “You must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12.40)
In conclusion, we see that the obedient faith that brings one to become a child of God is not the end of the process but the sprout of what ought to be a growing, developing relationship with God. The seed planted in the good soil of Matthew 13.8 will produce fruit to the glory of God in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we must take care that our faith is not choked into fruitlessness by the cares of this world (Matthew 13.22), nor by our tendency to forget our spiritual status before salvation.