A study in 2 Peter 1:5-11 (3a): Making our calling and election sure
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This is a study on 2 Peter 1:5-11 by Martyn McGeown. Previous article in the series: A study in 2 Peter 1:5-11 (3a): Encouraged to fruitful knowledge
“Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (1 Peter 1:10)
The apostle Peter begins with faith: “like precious faith” in verse 1. This faith is the gift of God: we have obtained it (it has been allotted to us, is the idea). We have obtained it—it has been allotted to us—through the righteousness of God, which is theological shorthand for the work of Jesus Christ. By faith we are complete: we have “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (v. 3); we have “exceeding great and precious promises” (v. 4); and we are even “partakers of the divine nature,” having escaped the corruption of the world” (v. 4).
To that faith the apostle urges us to be diligent—to give all diligence—to add virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity” (vv. 5-7). The idea of “add” is to supply lavishly from the supplies that we have by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The verb is used of a patron of the arts supplying an orchestra or a choir so that it gives a beautiful performance; similarly, when we add these things to our faith we bring glory to our God. In verses 8-9 the apostle adds an incentive and a warning. The incentive is that “if these things—virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity—are in us and abound our faith will not be barren (that is, idle/lazy/unproductive) or unfruitful; but our faith will be active and fruitful to the glory of God and the welfare of the neighbor. The warning is that “he that lacketh these things—virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity—is spiritually shortsighted and suffers from forgetfulness: he has forgotten that he has been purged from his sins.
To that warning the apostle gives an alternative in v. 10: Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” The alternative to spiritual shortsightedness and forgetfulness is to make our calling and election sure.
Election and Calling
The apostle mentions two things in verse 10—two aspects of our salvation—calling and election. Although the apostle speaks of “calling and election,” we will start with election. Election is God’s act of choosing us unto everlasting salvation. The word “elect” means “to choose out for oneself” or “to select.” In election there are always options: in this case the options are people. Before God’s mind stood all the people whom he would create—from Adam all the way to the last human being who will live. Some of those people God chose, while the rest God rejected. God’s act of choosing some is election, while God’s act of rejecting the rest is reprobation.
It is important to emphasize that election is personal: God chose persons; he did not choose conditions or states of being, but persons. Canons 1:10: “Election does not consist herein that out of all possibilities and actions of men God has chosen some as a condition of salvation, but that he was pleased out of the common mass of sinners to adopt some certain persons as a peculiar people to himself.” And the text itself refers to persons: “make your calling and election sure.” “Your!” Other passages teach the same thing: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
This election of God has certain characteristics or qualities.
First, election is eternal: God did not make this choice in time after we were created, after we had begun to do good or evil, but he set his love upon us and chose us before time began. “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10). “Chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
Second, election is unconditional. When we choose something or someone, we do so because of some quality in the thing/person chosen. The reason for God’s choice is not in us; it is in him: it is because of his own good pleasure. “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:5).
Third, election is in Jesus Christ: he is the elect one (God chose him to be the Head of his people) and we are chosen in him, chosen to be his people, chosen to be his church, and chosen to be his sheep. Therefore, we are given to him, and he suffers and dies for us in order to make full satisfaction for our sins.
There is, therefore, nothing surer and nothing more certain than election. Election is God’s eternal, sovereign, unconditional, unchangeable choice of his people. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died; yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:33-34).
Calling is the address of God’s voice to the heart of the elect, regenerated sinner to bring him to conscious faith. Election is God’s eternal choice; whereas calling is God’s speaking by his voice to the heart of the elect, regenerated sinner in time. Paul writes, “[God] hath saved us and called us with a holy calling not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:10). Elsewhere he writes, “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called” (Rom. 9:30). The purpose and grace of God are before the world began, but the calling happens in time and history, in the lifetime of the elect sinner. There was a point in time, dear reader, when you were called, a time when God addressed your heart, a time when God drew you to himself, and a time when by grace you came in faith to Jesus Christ.
In calling his people God adopts a certain order: regeneration, calling, faith. Although we are eternally God’s elect, and therefore eternally the objects of his love and favor, we are born into this world as sinners; indeed, we are conceived and born in sin and, therefore, we begin life “dead in sin.” Therefore, the first step must be regeneration. God makes us alive; then, having made us alive, he calls us: “Come,” he says, in the preaching of the gospel and “Come,” he says, as the Spirit addresses our hearts. Jesus speaks of this in John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
The fruit of the calling is that we come in conscious faith to Jesus Christ. God’s election is sure. God’s calling is equally sure. God, says Paul, “quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17). And elsewhere he writes, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:29), which means that God does not change his mind about those whom he calls.
Making Them Sure
Given that there is nothing surer or more certain than election and calling—they are rooted in the eternal good pleasure and purpose of Almighty God—we might wonder: why does the apostle write, “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” The meaning is not, “Make them sure for God,” but “Make them sure for yourself.” That, too, is why the order is calling and election. The apostle wants his readers to know that they are called and elected by God.
This means, first, that it is possible to know and that it is normal to know. In some churches, even some Reformed churches, the members do not know whether or not they are called and elected. In fact, the preaching is such that they are encouraged—even commanded—to doubt. If you ask such people they might say, “I faithfully attend church twice every Sunday, and I try to live a godly life; and I think that I believe in Jesus, but I do not know if God has really called me or if I am an elect.” There is no more miserable existence for a child of God than that: to be a child of God and not to know it; to be a child of God and to be constantly unsure and doubting it; to be a child of God and to be afraid that you are not really called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light; to be a child of God and to be afraid that you are reprobate, heading for hell, not heaven.
The preaching—and believing—of doubt is Arminianism; it is not the Reformed faith; the Canons of Dordt are opposed to a theology of doubt. “The elect in due time, though in various degrees and in diff measures, attain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election” (Canons 1:12). The Arminians taught, “There is in this life no fruit and no consciousness of the unchangeable election to glory, nor any certainty” (Canons 1.R.7). “Of this preservation of the elect to salvation, and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers for themselves may and do obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith” (Canons 5:10). “This assurance is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to, or independent of the Word of God” (Canons 5:10). The Arminians taught, “Without a special revelation we can have no certainty of future perseverance in this life,” which the Canons call “the doubts of the papist” (Canons 5:R:5). Peter says, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure,” which he could not—and would not—write if assurance of salvation were impossible.
This, too, is a personal matter: “Make your calling and election sure.” The only person’s calling and election you can make sure is yours. The apostle does not write to the pastor or the elders, “Make the calling and election of the congregation sure.” Preaching and teaching will affect the congregation’s assurance, but the officebearers cannot give assurance. The apostle does not write to husbands or wives, “Make the calling and election of your spouse sure.” Nor does he write to parents, “Make the calling and election of your children sure.” Nor does he write to children, “Make the calling and election of your parents, siblings, and friends, sure.” Nor does he write, “Make the calling and election of your neighbors sure.” You are to make your own calling and election sure. This is similar to Philippians 2:12: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
This, too, explains the apostle’s order: calling and election, not election and calling. The former is the order of our experience. If you start with election you will become hopelessly lost in a labyrinth. We cannot possibly ascend into the heavens to take a peek into the Lamb’s book of life to see whether our name is written there. The number and the names of the elect are known only to God; we cannot first make election sure. Instead, we start with calling: we ask, “Has God called me? Has he called me out of darkness into his marvelous light? Has he translated me from the power of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son? Has he worked by his grace and Holy Spirit in my heart so that I believe in Jesus Christ for my salvation?” Then I know without any doubt that I am one of God’s elect. “For whom he did predestinate, them he also called” (Rom. 8:30). If he called me in time and history (in my life when I heard and responded in faith to the gospel), then he elected me in eternity; and if he elected me in eternity, he shall surely save me to the end. Thus I make my calling and election sure.
Therefore, assurance of salvation—assurance of calling and assurance of election—is not only for a special class of Christian: the elderly perhaps, who obtain assurance after many years; or the officebearers; or those who have a special experience to convince them that they are truly saved: Assurance of calling and assurance of election are gifts of God to all his children: to men, women, young people, and children. You can know—you should know, and you should make it your business to know—that you are called and elected by God.
Assurance of our calling and election is the gift of God: the only one who can convince us that we are called and elected is God himself. Yet the apostle writes, “Give diligence,” using the same word as in verse 5, “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, etc. Assurance of calling and election is by faith: we know that we have been called and, therefore, chosen to salvation through believing the gospel. That, I remind you, is where the apostle begins; and no amount of diligence will assure us without faith, that is, if we do not first believe in Jesus Christ.
Remember what the apostle has said about faith in the context. In verse 1 he writes “to them which have obtained like precious faith.” In verses 2-3 he writes about “the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,” and “the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” In verse 4 he writes about “exceeding great and precious promises.” In verse 5 he commands us to “add to [our] faith” and in verse 8 he promises that we will be “neither nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Remember that knowledge of God and of Christ is faith.
Therefore, if you have faith—and if you are exercising faith; if you are trusting in Jesus Christ—you have assurance of your calling and election. The more you believe, the stronger your faith, the greater your assurance. That, too, is the testimony of the Reformed confessions. In Lord’s Day 7, Answer 21 faith “is a certain knowledge and an assured confidence.” That does not mean that every believer has the same measure/level of assurance or that every believer is equally assured at every point in his/her life. Canons 1:12 speaks of “observing in [ourselves] … the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God—such as a true faith in Christ.” Canons 5:10 says that assurance [of persevering] “springs from faith in God’s promises.” Canons 5:9 speaks of “[obtaining] assurance according to the measure of [our] faith.” and Canons 5:11 speaks of “believers [struggling] with various carnal doubts … and grievous temptations [so that] they are not always sensible of this full assurance.” Canons 5:5 even speaks of “[interrupting] the exercise of faith” by our sins, which affects assurance. In short, we can speak of the being of faith and the wellbeing of faith.
Assurance and Works
The apostle in verse 10 does not limit himself to faith—the exercise of faith. He writes, “If ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” The doing refers to the making our calling and election sure (the word “make” and “do” are the same); the “these things” refer to the “these things” in verse 8: “If these things be in you, and abound; and the “these things” in verse 9: “he that lacketh these things.” These things, then, are virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. There is, therefore, a relationship between “these things” and the assurance of our calling and election.
First, these things (we can call them good works) are not the basis of assurance. The basis/ground of our assurance is that in which we put our trust. We do not put our trust in our good works. We do not say, “My trust is in my virtue, my knowledge, my temperance, my patience, my godliness, my brotherly kindness, and my charity”—God forbid that we should think that! Our trust—our confidence—is found only in Jesus Christ, in his perfect obedience, in his lifelong sufferings, and in his redemptive death. We must never seek salvation—or the assurance of salvation—in our works.
Second, these things are not the instrument of assurance. The instrument/means of our assurance is that by which we lay hold of it, or that by which we embrace it, or that by which we appropriate it, or that by which we take it to ourselves so that we consciously enjoy/possess it. We do not embrace our salvation or the assurance of our salvation by our good works. We do not say, “I obtain Jesus Christ and his benefits by my virtue, by my knowledge, by my temperance, by my patience, by my godliness, by my brotherly kindness, and by my charity”—God forbid that we should say that! The Bible teaches that we are saved—and that we have the assurance and consciousness of our salvation—by faith. The Bible teaches that by its use of the prepositions “by/through.” “By grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). “Being justified by faith we have peace with God” (Rom. 5:1).
Third, our good works are not the condition that we must fulfill before God grants us the gift of assurance of our calling and election. It is not this, “If you bring forth virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity, then God will give you the assurance of your calling and election, so that God is waiting for you to do these things before he gives you the assurance of your calling and election.” God forbid that we should say that!
But we cannot simply say what the relationship is not; we have to do justice to the apostle’s inspired instruction: “Be diligent—there’s activity on our part—to make your calling and election sure….if ye do these things ye shall never fall.” Assurance is given and enjoyed in a certain sphere, or along a certain path; and we are required to see to it that we are walking along that path. That is what we mean by “in the way of.” A way is a path—there is a way/path/manner of life where assurance of calling and election is enjoyed. The one who enjoys assurance of his calling and election walks in obedience. In the context of this chapter the one who enjoys assurance of his calling and election is the one who adds—and who is always adding—virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity to his faith.
How then do we make our calling and election sure: we make every effort to add virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity to our faith; and, in this way, along this path, we enjoy assurance. Canons 1:12: “[We observe in ourselves] … the infallible fruits of election… true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.” Canons 5:10: “This assurance… springs from… a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience and to perform good works.” Canons 5:13: “[We are] much more careful and solicitous to continue in the ways of the Lord, which he hath ordained that they who walk therein may maintain an assurance of persevering.” “In the way of righteousness is life and in the pathway thereof there is no death” (Prov. 12:28).
There is also a way/path/manner of life where the assurance of our calling and election is not enjoyed: that is the way/path of disobedience and sin. That is the way of verse 9: “he that lacketh these things—virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity—is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” If you have forgotten that you were purged/cleansed from your old sins, then, obviously, you do not have the assurance of your calling (for we are called out of darkness); and if you do not have the assurance of your calling, you do not have the assurance of your election. The fruit of such forgetfulness is either despair or presumption, leading a person to plunge himself into his old sins. The result is a life of vice, ignorance, recklessness/indulgence, impatience/covetousness, impiety/ungodliness, malice, envy, and hatred. Along such a path God withholds the assurance of calling and election.
The apostle presents a different path: the path/the way of adding to our faith or supplying to our faith, so that our life is a harmonious chorus of praise to God. Along that path/in that way we enjoy the assurance of our calling and election. That comes out in the opening words of the text, “Wherefore the rather…” Those words express a contrast or alternative: rather than being the spiritually short sighted and forgetful man of verse 9, obey the exhortation of verse 10. Or as opposed to the sad example of verse 9, be the diligent person of verse 10. “Wherefore, the rather, brethren, give diligence to make…”
So the idea is this: not that we are always looking at our works to see if we have sufficient evidence of our calling and election; but rather this, we are always diligently adding virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity to our faith. We are adding these things because we are already saved and we already enjoy assurance; and that makes us thankful, with the result that we are even more diligent in these things. It is a kind of virtuous circle: not a vicious circle, but a virtuous circle.
A believer who is diligently adding virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity to his faith does not think of doubting his calling and election. Why would he—he is busy living the Christian life. Would one living the Christian life not be a Christian, and one who is a Christian not be called, and would one who is called not be an elect?
But the one who is lax in these things, or worse is cultivating the opposite vices in his life, he will begin to doubt his calling and election; he will doubt his calling and election because of God’s chastisement of him, which lead him to repentance, with the result that he returns to his first love and begins again to give diligence to making his calling and election sure.
And the one who does not take heed, but goes on in his sin, really has no right to call himself a called and elected child of God. His fall will be terrible indeed. To him the call comes—urgently—repent! “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.”