READ : 2 Peter 1:3-15
Have you ever worried about whether you’re really a Christian or not? The apostle Peter offers some helpful clues about how you can tell for sure.
“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.” So begins the second epistle of Peter. This letter was written to encourage Christians to persevere in faithfulness, to grow in holiness, and to persist in looking forward to the return of Christ. There are repeated personal references throughout the letter, such as the poignant words which express the aged Apostle Peter’s sense of his own mortality:
I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able . . . to recall these things.
2 Peter 1:13-15, esv
The second letter of Peter offers the Apostle’s last words to the church that he loved.
Everything We Need
“His divine power has given us everything we need,” Peter begins (verse 3). Think of that for a moment everything we need, everything we require has already been provided us by the power of God himself! Peter’s statement, you’ll notice, is in the past tense. This is not a promise about what God will do for us someday; it is an assertion about present reality based upon God’s past action. God has already given us everything we need. His provision is comprehensive: “His divine power, Peter writes, has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” So these are not just spiritual blessings Peter is talking about, but the supplying of all our material needs as well. Notice, however, that it is needs of which he is speaking, not desires; not necessarily all our wants are going to be provided. Peter does not say that God has given or will give us absolutely everything we want or even everything we may think we need. But he does confidently assert that God has supplied his people with all that is truly essential for their lives both in this world and in the next.
Having said that, though, I think we need to qualify Peter’s statement by putting it in the context of the teaching of the whole New Testament. Here are three negative qualifiers to bear in mind.
First, the fact that God has already given us all we need does not mean that we actually possess all those things at present. The New Testament writers sometimes use the past tense in a statement to indicate the certainty of a thing even if its full experience lies still in the future. As Christians, we don’t enjoy perfect health at all times. Eventually we all sicken and die. We also struggle to overcome our sinful habits or addictions, sometimes for a whole lifetime. The complete and permanent healing, both spiritual and physical, that we all need and long for will not be enjoyed in full until we see Christ in glory. Some Christians in the world lack even the basic necessities of life such as adequate food and shelter. They too are waiting for the Lord to fulfill his word. The fact that God has made ample provision for all our needs doesn’t mean we don’t have to exercise faith in waiting for him to actually supply those needs.
Second, Peter’s assertion does not mean we can dispense with prayer. Peter isn’t saying that because God has already provided us with every necessity, we don’t have to ask him continually to give us what we need. Recall that our Lord taught us to pray for our daily bread. That means we are to ask for all things necessary for both body and soul and to do it regularly. We live by prayer. Our prayers will always be the chief means by which God connects his provision with our need.
Third, the truth which Peter asserts here in 2 Peter 1:3 does not negate the truth that Paul teaches in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” God’s wonderful supplying of our needs does not mean we don’t also have to work hard to provide for ourselves and for our families.
On the positive side, notice how Peter develops the truth that God has given us everything we need. The greatest gift, of course, is Jesus himself. God’s provision for our needs has come “through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (verse 3). Most people are confused about what they really need. To be happy, we think, all we need is a new house, or a new car, or a new job, or a new spouse. Actually, “all” we need to be happy forever is Jesus Christ. It isn’t anything physical, nothing money can buy or achievement can earn, or luck can win. What we need is the Lord, and the new life he shares with us, the new nature he creates in us.
In one sense, we don’t need much. In another sense, we need everything! We need to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3), as Peter said in his first letter. And as he adds here in the opening chapter of his second epistle, we need to escape the corruption of the world (that is, to be freed from all the consequences of sin, including death), and we need to participate in the divine nature (that is, to be given new life from God by the power of the Holy Spirit through a faith-union with Jesus Christ).
These are God’s gospel promises. Peter calls them “his precious and very great promises.” In receiving them we receive everything God has to give. Through knowing Jesus Christ, Peter says, God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world” (v. 4). All of God’s promises everything he has ever offered to anybody find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). If God has already given us his own Son, how could he possibly withhold any lesser good from us (see Romans 8:32).
How To Make Sure You’re a Christian
And now the Apostle Peter makes a transition from affirmation to exhortation. Having asserted a series of tremendous doctrinal truths, he proceeds to apply them ethically to the lives of his readers.
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 sin.
(vv. 5-9, niv)
All of those exhortations, all of those things we need to build on one another, faith plus goodness plus knowledge plus self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love, they’re all summed up in the command to “be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure” (verse 10). The New Testament teaches that election is the foundation on which our salvation is built. Peter, John, Paul and Jesus himself repeatedly tell us that it is God’s initiative which is decisive (in the literal sense). His choice precedes and enables ours; his call effectively draws us as it invites us to come to Christ and be saved. At the same time our response of faith is crucial and real: we must believe and come.
But this doctrine is intended not just as a comfort but as a challenge for us. The comfort comes from knowing that our salvation depends on God’s stability and constancy rather than our own. We are weak but he is strong. We may be faithless but he is faithful. So no one, as Jesus said, can snatch us from our Father’s hand (cf. John 10:29). But the challenge comes in a passage like this one we’ve just read from 2 Peter chapter 1. How can I know whether or not God has chosen me? How can I be certain my faith in Christ is real and not counterfeit or illusory? The answer is for me to make my calling and election sure by giving myself eagerly to the pursuit of godliness and love. That’s how you can make sure you’re a Christian.
Are you adding to your faith goodness? And to goodness knowledge? And to knowledge self-control? And to self-control perseverance? And to perseverance godliness? And brotherly kindness and love? That’s how you know if you’re a Christian or not. Are you growing in all these things? Are you sticking with it and not falling by the wayside or slacking off?
As Martin Luther once observed, we are justified by faith alone, not by any works. But, he added, the faith that justifies us is never alone. It always produces good works. The faith that saves us must also change us. So to faith we must add good character and righteous behavior, and self-discipline, and stick-to-it-iveness and love for God, and service to others. If you want to test the genuineness of your Christianity start by looking in your heart for faith in Jesus Christ. If you trust him as your Savior and worship him as Lord and God, that’s the surest sign of the Holy Spirit’s renewing, saving work in your life and in your heart. But then don’t stop there. Look further throughout your life for the specific qualities, the character traits and the virtues that Peter describes here,
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.
(vv. 10-11, niv)
May it be so for every one of us!