Some may wonder whether they truly have gained a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Perhaps they cannot pinpoint that certain moment of spiritual rebirth, and they struggle to identify the changes from the old self to the new self. In his second letter, the apostle Peter outlines what life looks like for those who have been added to the faith. Although the walk of each Christian may look a little different, we have many things in common when it comes to the transformation God expects of his children. If we want to know whether our lives reflect his expectations, we need only compare our transformation to that which is indicative of the saved soul. Let us explore together the signs of growth which confirm that our faith is true.
2 Pet. 1:3-4
[God’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he 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 because of sinful desire.
Peter begins this letter by using a very specific word. He states that those things which have been granted to us by God are the result of “promises.” This is the first indication that this letter speaks not of things which a Christian might expect but of things which a Christian should expect. God’s promises are not possibilities but are guarantees. We can be sure about them without question. Peter is letting us know that we can be confident of receiving everything God proposes to grant us as his children. We know that our Father is not the author of confusion, and we know that the promise of salvation is something which those who believe will receive. The Father wants us to be sure of our place in his kingdom and his priesthood. He knows that doubt will try and creep in when we compare ourselves to others or consider how much is left for us to change, and that is why this instruction is so critical to our faith. God wants us to be hot, which is an extreme. He wants us to live in complete spiritual security and not somewhere between faith and doubt.
This guarantee of security is a guarantee of freedom from the world’s corruption. The change we experience when the bonds of sin are broken cuts to the very soul and spirit, and it transforms our very nature. When we think of what it means for something to be our nature, we can think of our natural inclinations. Someone who has a gentle nature exercises gentility almost as a reflex. That person does not need to force gentleness but sees it flow with little or no effort. The same can be said about the one who has an angry nature. That anger might seem to have a mind of its own and take control of the person instead of the person controlling it. A telltale sign of the truly transformed is that there is a change from sin coming naturally to goodness and godliness coming naturally. If we want to know whether we have been transformed, a good indicator is whether our natural behavior is changing. This will not happen on its own, and we must work to develop new habits and patterns, but it should come. It is a promise of God that we have a new nature through Jesus Christ, and the confirmation will be a newness in the godly character which starts to come naturally to us.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 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.
If we think about the sanctification process like a building renovation, we see that this happens in stages or parts. There are different repairs made to different areas of the building. Some of the renovations may be faster and easier than others, and some of the work might take extra manpower. Regardless of what that entire plan looks like from stage to stage, what matters is that the work continues without interruption. It is obvious when the jobsite is empty and the repairs have stalled. It is also obvious when the crews have returned to work, making noticeable noise and physically changing how that building looks to passersby. The way the crew chief knows whether the renovations are still underway is the same way we know whether we have been justified and now have entered sanctification. It is plainly noticeable. The changes we should see, and which others should see in us, will be changes which can be brought only by the Spirit himself. If we have confirmed our faith by seeking that transformation, renovations will be under way. The question of whether our faith is true can be answered by seeing whether we are being changed as Peter describes.
Peter’s list of the attributes which should supplement our faith, the ones which only come if we first show our effort to change, are attributes we cannot possibly add to ourselves. Mankind does not establish virtue or godly knowledge. We cannot increase self-control or steadfastness on our own. Even brotherly affection and love, which may seem like simple character traits we can muster up ourselves, are only genuine if they are imparted to us by the One who defines them. It should be clear to us that this transformation, this sanctification, this renovation of our spiritual houses, is something that is done in cooperation with God. That means that we are actively engaging him and seeking his help to add these attributes to ourselves through the work of his Spirit. We will know whether we are living this way. We will know whether we are seeking God daily to transform us more and more into his nature. If we are, the fruit will come. We should have no question regarding whether these qualities are increasing in us. It will be obvious not only from our intent to change but from the results which follow. The evidence will be our gaining effective and fruitful spiritual knowledge.
For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
Peter does not pull any punches and calls spiritual complacency exactly what it is. When we fail to increase in the attributes named in the previous verses, we are accountable for that failure. Remember, we must make the effort to seek that increase. God’s holy power makes the change, but we must seek the change first. There is clearly a connection between sanctification and justification because Peter is telling us that the one who stalls in his sanctification has forgotten that he has been justified. He is saying that those who do not desire to truly transform spiritually have completely forgotten the point of that moment when they repented and were cleansed of their sins. We move from death to life not so that sin would continue to reside in us but so that the Spirit would reside in us instead. However, there is a big move which still remains once our temples have been dedicated to God. We have to move out our sinfulness and make room for holiness. We must understand that this is a lifelong process. That is why Peter says that those who become complacent are nearsighted because they do not see that this process is necessary for us to gain that promised future.
The thing about being a follower of Jesus Christ is that we are not called to stand still. Yes, God gives us times of rest just as He rested from the task of creating. However, that is not a rest from our sanctification. Even in those times of rest we should be in fellowship with him, increasing in the things which He imparts to us when we engage him. The most critical point here is that we never stop. Our spiritual growth cannot be stalled at any certain point. If we stop growing, we begin to regress. It is not as if we can become 50% transformed and hang out there for a time. When our desire to continue transforming our nature ceases, our old nature begins to resurface. There always is something at work in us, whether holiness or sin. The battle is constant. We cannot be satisfied with any level of holiness we reach, and we cannot ever think that we have arrived. We must desire ever increasing transformation because that indicates our remembering the reason we were saved in the first place. If we take our salvation seriously, we will want to be more and more like God daily. If we ever lose this desire, we only need ask him to renew it in us.
Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
I have walked in accountability with brothers who have a sincere desire to break free from the bonds of sin. We have explored so many tactics for overcoming temptation and changing habits and behavior. It may seem like a complicated challenge when the same sin continues to creep into one’s life time and again, but Peter gives us a rather simple approach here. He just laid out those traits which are hallmarks of the true believer. Those who have been saved will seek to increase their faith with other godly attributes without ceasing. Now he instructs us to be diligent about taking those steps to confirm this calling because it will keep us from falling. Yes, we have read that correctly. What he is saying is that continually seeking that change in character, that change in our nature, will keep us from falling to sin. Since we are imperfect, this might seem like an impossibility. The key here is the idea mentioned above, that there always is something at work in us, whether sin or holiness.
No human spirit can be neutral. It is either for God or against him. Just as nothing can be dry and wet at the same time, no one’s spirit can seek God and defy him simultaneously. That is what Peter is driving home here. If we remain diligent to constantly grow godlier in our nature, to feed our spirits with the attributes the Father desires to increase in us more and more, we will not have the time or desire to defy him. It is when we put aside our spiritual progress that we make ourselves available to entertain and fall to sin. This is a very critical point in every Christian’s walk. We must remain in constant communion with God if we want to live lives free from sin. Tomorrow can be a completely sinless day, and the next day can be one as well. We may have fallen in the past, but that does not mean that we are destined ever to fall again. God makes it possible that we would be able to spend our remaining days full of the Spirit and devoid of sin, in unending communion with him. All we need to do is be diligent about seeking that relationship, and we know that He certainly desires to have that relationship with us.
For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Justification is only the beginning. We cannot fall into the trap of thinking that saying a prayer is all we need for redemption. Scripture tells us that we cannot continue in our sin with the expectation that grace will abound. There are different types of grounds on which the seed of the Spirit will fall, and only one of them is fertile. There are people who will tell the Lord of all the things they did in his name, and He will tell them that He never knew them. The Bible tells us that faith without works is dead, which is a picture of the connection between justification and sanctification. Those who believe will be expected to act according to that belief. It only makes sense. Peter confirms here that our ticket into the kingdom is not printed in a moment. The right of entry comes from the culmination of a time of transformation. It starts with justification and must continue through sanctification. One cannot function without the other. Those who have accepted the Spirit are expected then to live in the Spirit instead of living in sin. First we have a taste, and then we dive in for the full meal. It is unfortunate, but some will not go beyond that first taste.
If we are to be brutally honest, the kingdom of God is not for the lazy. Joining his army and his priesthood means signing up to do his work. We may not know exactly to what we are committing ourselves, but He needs that full commitment. God is not looking for people to turn to him for only a moment. He is looking for people to turn to him for a lifetime and beyond. Quite frankly, if our desire to be transformed is sincere, we will seek that transformation even without anyone telling us we must do so. Those who love God will want to fellowship with him continually. Some pieces of the puzzle might be missing, but the desire to understand him more will yield the fruit of that understanding. Entry into his kingdom is not for the faint of heart or the ambivalent. If we have a true appreciation of that from which we have been saved, then we will have a true desire to move further and further away from that state of being dead in our sin. The roadmap has been given to us, but it serves no purpose unless we want to take the journey.
One thing which is abundantly clear in scripture is that God desires for us to know the truth. He wants us to be sure. Although it warms his heart for us to seek him for answers to our questions, for us to seek him for greater understanding of his kingdom and our role in it, there is no celebration when we doubt whether we are his. There is a certainty He wants us to have of his promises. That is the level of faith available to us if we want it. Those who have been changed will know it because that change continues. Those who desire to be free from the bonds of sin can reach that place today and tomorrow and the next day if they remain in constant communion with the Father. Those who question their position in the kingdom really must question their desire for the things of God because He promises our spiritual security if we follow that roadmap. Trust in God’s instruction, and He will make clear the fulfillment of every resulting promise. When we confirm our calling in the manner He has laid out for us, He will give us the confidence to know with certainty that we are his.