Is Knowledge a Requirement of Salvation? Reflections on 2 Peter (Part 1)

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Is Knowledge a Requirement of Salvation? Reflections on 2 Peter (Part 1)

At the conclusion of his second epistle, Peter asserts that his fellow apostle Paul has written some things that are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Though the Apostle Peter may have lacked the scholarship and rhetorical complexity of the Apostle Paul, his writings are nonetheless provocative and full of deep theological insights. Looking at 2 Peter 1:1-11, we find an interesting theological exposition of the process of salvation. The simplicity of the language masks its deep theological treasures, specifically with regards to salvation and the morally reconstructive power of the gospel. This article is Part 1 of a series which will explore 2 Peter 1 in an effort to understand the necessity of knowledge in the process of salvation. The following paragraphs are an analysis of 2 Peter 1:1-11.

 

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: (2 Peter 1:1, emphasis added)

 

The apostle begins his letter by reminding his audience that this letter is not a collection of his own personal opinions. This letter contains apostolic authority, springing from the mind and thoughts of one specially influenced by the Holy Spirit. In other words, the letter contains the highest prophetic authority imaginable. It was authored by one who had: (1) spent a considerable amount of time with the living Christ, and been personally taught by Him in the flesh, and (2) had seen the resurrected glorified Christ in the flesh (see Acts 1:21-22). Essentially, the apostleship of Peter, stemming from his personal “in the flesh” relationship with Christ, as well as his inspiration by the Holy Spirit, elevates his writings beyond the kindly advice of a Christian brother or sister to literal equivalency with the Word of God. But why is this important?

 

Its importance is paramount to the authority of the letter, specifically the truthfulness and reliability of the content it contains. Without the apostleship of Peter, the letter would simply be kindly advice that could be ignored or implemented at the personal judgment of the recipient, without regard to the eternal consequences. Another way to look at it is that the apostolic source of the letter elevates the words it contains to equivalency with those of Christ Himself, as opposed to the words of a faulty, frail, human imagination.

 

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2, emphasis added)

 

Here we find the crux of Peter’s argument through verse 10 of the same chapter. The blessings of Christ come through acquiring knowledge of Christ.[1] In this case, grace (unmerited forgiveness and energizing spiritual-moral power) and peace (which in this context refers to the result of having an assurance of salvation) are divine blessings that can be increased through acquiring knowledge of Jesus Christ.

 

Increased Knowledge of Jesus Christ –> Increased Grace & Peace in the Christian

 

Or in other words…

 

Increased Knowledge of Jesus Christ –> Increased Unmerited forgiveness and energizing spiritual-moral power

 

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3, emphasis added)

 

2 Peter 1:3 elaborates on the simple formula that an increased knowledge of Jesus leads to forgiveness of personal sins as well as energizing spiritual-moral power resulting in an assurance of salvation. Peter adds a component to the formula and directs the reader’s attention to one of the most important goals of the gospel, which is to produce in the Christian a godly life. What this godly life entails is listed in 2 Peter 1:5-7, but it is essentially the restoration of the image of God’s character in humanity. In theological terms, it is sanctification—being made holy.[2] It is taking on the characteristics of Christ or character transformation. In simple terms, it is living a lifestyle that exudes Christ-like attributes of character.

 

At first glance, it may appear that Peter is adding another component to his simple formula, namely divine power, which comes from Christ. However, with closer inspection, it is clear that this divine power is not a new component but simply a summative phrase combining the grace and peace of 1 Peter 1:2. Christ grants His divine power, grace and peace, to the Christian, and this divine power is the sufficiency (“everything we need”) and guarantor of the Christian’s endeavor to live the godly life. Without this power, the Christian’s efforts to restore his character in harmony with God would be less than futile. Next, we learn that the divine power of Christ (forgiveness, moral-spiritual power, and assurance of salvation) gives us everything we need (specifically, the attributes of a godly life found in 1 Peter 1:5-7). But through what means do we acquire this divine power? It is again though an increase of our knowledge of Christ.

 

Increased Knowledge of Jesus Christ –> Increase of Divine Power (Grace & Peace or Forgiveness, Moral/Spiritual Power, and Assurance of Salvation) –> Increase of the attributes of a godly life.

 

Through these he has give us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:4, emphasis added)

 

“Through these” (see KJV “whereby” and ESV “by which”) most likely refers back to the divine power that comes through a knowledge of Christ. In other words, through a knowledge of Christ, the Christian gains access to Christ’s divine power, and through his power the Christian has been given “precious promises.” These promises includes the godly attributes of a godly lifestyle that are articulated in 2 Peter 1:5-7.

 

Once these attributes become a part of the Christian’s life, and once faith is exercised in the promises these attributes imply, Peter tells us that we become participants in the divine nature which consequently suppresses latent and active evil desires the Christian possesses before the 2nd coming, and eventually destroys them at the 2nd coming. Peter also makes the link between a lack of believing God’s promises, falling into the corruption of the world, and surrendering to one’s evil desires. It would be reasonable to conclude that the promises referred to here, though including the attributes of a godlike character listed in 2 Peter 1:5-7, are not limited to the same.  Indeed, it would include every promise in Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, serving as a bulwark against the desires of the flesh and appealing to the mental, moral, and spiritual inclinations of the Christian. Indeed, a lack of the knowledge of Christ and His promises, which leads to a related lack of trust in Christ and His promises, can and ultimately does lead to sin.[3]

 

But what does Peter mean by participation in the divine nature? This term seems to indicate a fundamental change in the being of the Christian, perhaps even at the ontological level. The attributes/characteristics of Christ take up a permanent residence within the heart (mind and character) of the Christian. He or she not only acts like Christ, but also thinks like Christ, participating in His nature, which is rooted in love. Essentially, it is Peter’s description of what his fellow apostle termed “Christ formed within” (Galatians 4:19, Colossians 1:27). In this state, the Christian has evolved from a self-centered existence to an other-centered existence focused on loving God and humanity. He does not simply obey the commands of Christ or demonstrate the attributes of Christ in his lifestyle, but his obedience and life is rooted in an overwhelming inexpressible love for God and humanity. His motivations for all he thinks, says, and does springs from a reservoir of divine love implanted within him. The evil desires, latent and active, become repulsive to the Christian, freeing him from the corruption of the world whose only avenue to the Christian is to appeal to one’s own evil inclinations (both inherited and cultivated, dormant and active).[4]

 

Increased Knowledge of Jesus Christ –> Increased Divine Power (Grace & Peace or Forgiveness, Moral/Spiritual Power, and Assurance of Salvation) –> Increased faith in the promises of Christ and incorporation of the attributes of a godly life –> Increased Participation in the divine nature (Christ formed within) and the suppression of, and eventual destruction, of the fleshly nature in the Christian

 

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, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Peter 1:5-7, emphasis added)

 

Peter now articulates the godly attributes which, if exhibited, equate to a godly life, and which, if nurtured, allow for the phenomena Peter calls “participation in the divine nature” or as Paul terms it “Christ formed within.” He begins by emphasizing the motivation for attempting to adhere to what he is about to articulate (a list of godly attributes), the acquisition of the divine nature. In other words, Peter is saying that the acquisition of the divine nature should motivate the Christian in the attainment of godly attributes. These attributes, sometimes called Peter’s ladder of virtues, appear to be his version of Paul’s fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5.[5] After Peter gives the motivation, he then encourages the reader to “make every effort to add” or to strive to attain these successive virtues. Peter has already informed the reader regarding how to “add” these godly attributes to one’s life, specifically through increasing one’s knowledge of Jesus. This echoes Paul’s declaration that “by beholding we become changed” or transformed, implying that whatever object the mind is fixed upon, it will inevitably begin to exhibit like characteristics of the object of study.

 

It is not a coincidence that Peter’s ladder of virtues ends with love as the top rung. The virtues are progressively leading to participation in the divine nature. What is the significance of ending with the attribute of love? It is the supreme attribute of the Godhead. Once love is perfected in the Christian, he is indeed participating in the divine nature, and Christ is formed within. This is the significance of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, as well as his discourse on the Mount of Olives in Matthew 24-25.

 

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in heaven [participate in the divine nature of love]. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous [acts of love]. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, emphasis added)

 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did [acts of love] for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)

 

Ellen White seems to conclude the same great goal of the Christian religion, the replication of Christ’s divine love in the heart of humanity.

 

Love to man is the earthward manifestation of the love of God. It was to implant this love, to make us children of one family, that the King of glory became one with us. And when His parting words are fulfilled, “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12); when we love the world as He has loved it, then for us His mission is accomplished. We are fitted for heaven; for we have heaven in our hearts. (Desire of Ages p. 641, emphasis added)

 

Love is the pinnacle of the ladder “because God is love” (1 John 4:8). It is the pinnacle because when we love as Christ loved, we are then participating in the divine nature. At the pinnacle of the ladder, the godly attributes and virtues that the Holy Spirit implants in the Christian’s character become visible, demonstrable, acts of love. Needless to say, this concurs wholly with the Apostle John, the apostle of love, when he states, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8). The simplicity of John’s statement encapsulates Peter’s well-articulated process. Knowledge of God, leads to an admiration and possession of the love of God.[6]

 

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 whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. (2 Peter 1:8-9, emphasis added)

 

The clarity and simplicity of Peter’s point shines brightly in 2 Peter 1:8-9. Peter reiterates that the possession of the virtues he has just described are critical to being a successful Christian (participating in the divine nature). But not only is the Christian to possess these attributes, he is also to nurture or increase them. By doing so, the process of sanctification will function properly, in that the Christian will exhibit a Christ-like character. The language is reminiscent of fruitfulness in John 15. A lack of fruitfulness (effectiveness and productivity) or “love-works” results in the increase of the knowledge of Jesus becoming ineffective and short-circuited–not producing the desired effect. Peter then warns that individuals (which includes professed Christians) that do not possess his list of virtues are blind, but not only are they blind, they have forgotten (i.e. lost the knowledge of) Jesus Christ and what that entails, specifically the knowledge of the forgiveness of their personal sins (justification) and freedom from a life of slavery to sin. In other words, a lack of this salvific knowledge leaves the Christian in a precarious state, devoid of the knowledge of grace (forgiveness of sins and moral-spiritual power), which leads to a lack of peace (assurance of salvation).

 

What Peter is implying is that a lack of his ladder of virtues being implanted and exhibited in the life, comes from a lack of knowledge of Christ (whether it is an initial lack or failure to keep in remembrance the character of Christ, see 1 Peter 1:12). In the Christian, this forgetting of Christ’s mercy, power, and glory will ultimately lead him or her to become re-entangled in the corruptions of the world and cause a resurgence of the evil desires in the life. This can, and often will, eventually lead to willful, open, rebellion in Christian’s life (even if short of wholesale apostasy) causing a spiritual cognitive dissonance in the Christian. Having accepted Christ as Savior (forgiveness and freedom from sin) and Lord (ruler in one’s life), and yet willfully exhibiting characteristics, attitudes, and actions that deny both of these realities, disrupts the sanctification process.

 

In summary, two things must be noted here from this verse as cautions for the Christian: (1) the Christian can have an initial knowledge of Christ, and yet be ineffective and unproductive because he is not nurturing and increasing his knowledge of Christ, surrendering to that knowledge, and exercising faith in that knowledge by living the godly life, and (2) that to forget, or rather to fail to meditate upon that spiritual hallowed ground of the Christian’s hope of salvation, the knowledge of one’s own personal forgiveness of a past life of sin, will ultimately result in a backsliding. He or she is blinded to the knowledge of Christ and His gifts as the Great Emancipator of humanity: (1) freedom from a guilty past, and (2) freedom from a life of slavery to sin.

 

 

Increased Knowledge of Jesus Christ –> Increased Divine Power (Grace & Peace or Forgiveness, Moral/Spiritual Power, and Assurance of Salvation) –> Increased faith in the promises of Christ and the incorporation of the attributes of a godly life –> Increased Participation in the divine nature (possession of divine love) and the suppression of, and eventual destruction, of the fleshly nature in the Christian à Readiness for the 2nd Coming

 

 

Decreased Knowledge of Jesus Christ –> Decreased Exhibition of Divine Power (Grace & Peace) –> Lack of godly attributes exhibited in a godly life –> Increased Corruption in the Christian’s Life

 

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:10-11, emphasis added)

 

Peter now introduces a new concept. He calls the Christian to “confirm your calling and election.” This is a reference to the peace that the Christian should possess, specifically the peace that comes from an assurance of salvation. But why does Peter exhort the Christian to confirm one’s election/assurance? Isn’t it already assured? This is the point where many fail to construct a soteriology (a salvation theory) that is coherent with real-life experience. A traditional understanding of the gospel may suggest that one’s assurance of salvation is never to be questioned (regardless of behavior) as long as the suppliant has faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ, but this is faulty reasoning because it assumes a different goal for the soteriological process.

 

For many, the goal of salvation is to forgo eternal punishment (or punishing) for eternal life but these are really consequences and/or mechanism for the real objective. Satan’s objective is to separate us step-by-step from God by persuading humanity into willful, deliberate, sinful, rebellion. Death is simply a consequence of this process as sin separates us from the Lifegiver, Jesus Christ. God’s objective is to reestablish eternal communion (at-one-ment) with humanity that has fallen into rebellion. Eternal life is a necessary condition and consequence for this communion to be realized, but the main objective of God is to eradicate sin from his Creatures and to concurrently fill them with divine love, restoring the imago Dei. Understanding this, one can now interpret Peter’s statement correctly in what entails “confirm[ing] your calling and election.” With this in mind, the question is no longer whether I simply believe, but am I allowing Christ to recreate me for intimate eternal communion with Him?

 

The confirmation of one’s election is the exemplification of Peter’s ladder of virtues in the Christian’s life, motivated by divine love. To be sure, this is not the basis of the assurance of salvation, but it is the tangible metric by which to evaluate one’s standing with God; specifically, it is the evidence as to whether one is cooperating with God in the soteriological process. An absence of these virtues does not bode well for the Christian, for it testifies that the Christian has ceased to retain and increase his knowledge of Christ, and without this knowledge, and a surrender to it, the Christian will become unproductive of love and love-works. Again, for clarity’s sake, these love-works are not the basis or cause of one’s salvation in any way, but they are clear evidence of it. Peter states that to confirm[7] the calling and election one must “do these things,” and actually allow the divinely implanted character attributes of Christ to materialize in the physical world through acts of love. Peter then points us to the glorious end of the sanctification process, in that he promises that if these things are done, the Christian can never stumble (lose one’s salvation) and will be ready to be welcomed by Christ at the 2nd Coming—a glorious conclusion to a glorious process.

 

In summary, Peter provides an intriguing theologically exposition of the process of salvation rooted in the activating process of acquiring a knowledge of Christ. The process, according to Peter, begins with the: (1) acquisition of an ever-increasing knowledge of Christ’s life, character, power, and promises which leads to (2) the imputation of divine power or grace and peace, grace—being a combination of forgiveness and moral-spiritual power, and peace—being the assurance of salvation, which leads to (3) faith in God’s promises of sanctification and the impartation of Christ-like attributes in the life, culminating in the partaking of the divine nature of love, exhibited in visible acts of love and the suppression of active sinful proclivities in the life, which, if this step is unobstructed by a ceasing to increase one’s knowledge of Christ, and/or willful open rebellion against Christ’s commands, leads to (4) the Christian being ready to meet Christ and the obliteration of all latent sinful proclivities in the life. Simply put, an increase in the knowledge of Christ increases one’s faith in His divine promises of forgiveness and power to deliver from sin, which increases the impartation and assimilation of Christ’s character, until one’s inner being is imbued with divine love which fits the Christian for heaven. Or to put it even more simply: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).

 

Now that Peter has established that an ever-increasing knowledge of Christ is paramount to living a successful Christian life, the question must be asked, “How does one practically increase one’s knowledge of Christ?” To answer that question, the next article will look to the latter half of 2 Peter 1. Suffice it to say, however, that the acquiring of knowledge in this context is not a simple memorization of facts about Christ, for Paul tells us that there are certain Christians that are “…always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). In part two of this series, Peter will reveal to us the kind of knowledge that is required of Christ, and the methods by which to acquire this knowledge.

 

But a final word on the relationship between the Christian’s knowledge of Christ and His ultimately successful completion of the sanctification process:

 

All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us. (Desire of Ages, p. 668, emphasis added)

Click here to read the rest of this series.

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Notes:

[1] “Grace and Peace” was a customary greeting in ancient letters, but Peter and Paul both customize the ordinary greeting by appending theological content to it.

[2] Salvation is typically described as a three-part process: (1) Justification, which is the forgiveness of sins and access to divine spiritual-moral power, (2) Sanctification, which is the lifetime process of becoming more Christ-like in character in daily surrender to the will of God, overcoming active open rebellion against God, and (3) Glorification, which is the transformation of one’s physical body. Another way to summarize it is victory over sin in all its aspects including: (1) victory over the penalty of sin which is guilt and death (Justification), (2) victory over the power and slavery of sin in our daily lives (Sanctification), and (3) victory over the presence of sin which entails, latent sinful proclivities, deformities, disease, and a sinful environment by the transformation of our bodies and transportation to heaven at the 2nd Coming (Glorification).

[3] Every violation of God’s commandments is essentially a lack of trust in Christ’s character, word, and promises. Theft and covetousness is simply a lack of trust in that God will provide all of your needs and failing to exercise the reverse logic in that if I do not have something that I think I need, it is because God has deemed in His infinite wisdom that don’t really need it. Adultery and fornication is to lack trust that God will provide a mate suitable for you at the appropriate time, or a lack of trust in God’s power to keep one’s sexual-emotional needs under control. Murder is a lack of faith in God’s promises of justice. Ultimately, all sin is an illogical lack of trust in the promise of God to destroy sin and those who cling to it.

[4] See James 1:14.

[5] It should be noted that whereas Peter lists “love” as the last attribute or and ultimate attainment, Paul lists love first, as if it encapsulates all other godly attributes.

[6] This is why sin or iniquity can be called a mystery (see 2 Thessalonians 2:7). A creature that possessed a knowledge of God more intimate than any other created being ceased to love God and become his eternal enemy. The reverse is also mystery in that creatures born with inherited proclivities towards evil, which is antithetical to God’s nature, can learn to love him through a knowledge of His character.

[7] Note that the text says confirm as oppose to cause one’s election.

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About the author

Ingram London

Ingram London is a PhD student studying systematic theology at Andrews University.