A study in 2 Peter 1:5-11 (1a): Adding to our faith
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This is a study on 2 Peter 1:5-11 by Martyn McGeown. Previous article in the series:
“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith” (2 Peter 1:5)
#1 Precious Faith
The apostle Peter in his second, and final, epistle to the churches begins with an exhortation, “Add.” “Add to your faith.” 2 Peter 1:5-11 constitute one idea, an exhortation to grow and persevere in true faith. Peter begins his epistle this way, and ends it the same way (see 2 Peter 3:17-18), for a number of reasons. First, Peter is near death and this is his final opportunity to admonish beloved believers: he speaks of his “tabernacle” (vv. 13-14) which he must soon “put off” (v. 14). Second, he understands, as every good teacher does, the need to repeat his instruction: he speaks of “putting [them] in remembrance” (vv. 13, 15). Third, as chapter two will explain at length, there is the ever present danger of false teachers and apostates in the church. The false teachers that Peter has in mind are, in fact, Antinomians, who promote ungodliness (2:10, 14, 18-20, etc.). To counter Antinomianism, the apostle reminds his readers not only of the gospel of grace, but also of the way of godliness in which sinners saved by grace are called to walk.
The apostle begins the epistle to believers by reminding them—and us—about the wonder of faith. First, faith is not natural; it is the gift of God worked in us by the Holy Spirit. That comes out in verse 1 where the apostle addresses his readers as, “them that have obtained like precious faith with us.” The word “obtained” means allotted or assigned. The idea is that God has allotted to each of his people a portion of faith as it has pleased him. Believing reader, as a member of the church you have faith; your neighbor has faith; your spouse has faith; your parents have faith; your children have faith; your siblings have faith; your friends have faith.
Second, faith is precious: “like precious faith.” The idea of “like precious” is equally precious, of the same precious quality. The faith that we have obtained, because God has allotted or assigned it to us, is as precious as the faith of the apostle Peter, or Paul, or John. Your faith is as precious as the faith of your spouse, your parents, your children, your siblings, your friends, and your neighbors in this church. Our faith is precious not because of its strength or quality (as if its preciousness were determined by how hard we believe or as if its preciousness were determined by our sincerity), but because by faith we have Jesus Christ, and he is precious (1 Peter 2:7). By faith we embrace, appropriate, and receive Jesus Christ—we believe with all other believers—and he is precious to us. The unbeliever who has not obtained this precious faith is a stranger to Jesus Christ; and, not having Jesus Christ, the unbeliever has nothing. He does not have the forgiveness of sins, or peace with God, or eternal life.
Third, we have obtained this faith—“like precious faith”—“through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 1). “The righteousness of God” is the apostle Peter’s way of making reference to the entirety of God’s work of salvation in Jesus Christ. When you see “the righteousness of God” in the New Testament, the reference is often, if not usually, to the gospel: it is usually to the truth that God has met his own perfect standard in the work of his Son, so that he has accomplished for us what we could never have accomplished for ourselves. The “righteousness of God” includes the incarnation of God’s Son (his becoming a man), the lifelong obedience of Jesus, the sufferings of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the bearing by Jesus of God’s wrath and curse in our place, and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Thus we obtained this “like precious faith” through the work of Christ: “and our Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 1). Christ purchased this faith for us; Christ purchased the Spirit for us who works this faith in our hearts; and this faith is the instrument by which we come into possession of Jesus Christ and all his benefits.
Our faith is precious indeed, the gift of God; for by that faith we obtain all the blessings of salvation in Jesus Christ which the apostle continues to describe. In verse 3 the apostle sets forth the benefits of salvation which we receive by faith. God hath “given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (v. 3). “Life” is not our life in the world (a life common to all men), but life in verse 3 is life with God and life lived unto God. Life is the eternal life of the soul which consists in knowing God in Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Things that “pertain to life” are blessings such as justification, sanctification, peace, joy, hope, and the like. “Godliness” is religious piety, our love for him manifested in our keeping of his commandments. That, too, is given to us. Things that pertain to godliness include a new heart out of which we fear and obey God; a renewed will by which we desire the good; renewed affections by which we love God; and the fruit of good works. We have, therefore, every reason to live in piety and worship of God.
In addition, God has given us promises, called “exceeding great and precious promises” (v. 4). God’s promises are his sure and certain words concerning good things to come, and since they are God’s promises they cannot fail. By these promises we become “partakers of the divine nature” (v. 4). The “divine nature” is not the divine essence or being: if we became partakers of that, we would become God, which is impossible. Partaking in the divine nature means that we are like God: we have his image (which we lost in Adam) and we reflect some of his attributes (his communicable ones—righteousness, holiness, wisdom, goodness, mercy, grace, and love). This is in contrast to what we were: we were mired in the corruption of the world; that corruption, says the apostle, is “in the world through lust” (v. 4).
Therefore, when Peter says, “Add to your faith,” he is not at all belittling our faith. He has said wonderful things about it: it is precious, we have it in common with all the other members of Christ’s church, it is allotted or assigned to us by God, it brings us into possession of great blessings, and it has promise of greater things to come.
Therefore, saving faith does not need virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly affection, and charity. These are not of the essence of faith, but they are faith’s fruits. They are necessary in their own place, but they do not belong to faith’s saving or justifying essence. In other words, while true faith bears virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly affection, and charity, these things do not save or justify us. We are not justified by faith and virtue, etc. We are justified by faith alone. Faith and virtue are not the instruments of justification. Justification is by faith alone. Salvation, and especially justification, is by faith alone because by faith alone we embrace Jesus Christ, who alone is our salvation.
What, then, does the apostle mean when he commands us to “add” to our faith? To that question we turn in the next blog post.