Is Peter really suggesting that we who are in Christ can end up idle and unfruitful, bored and lazily wasting our days? Peter just assured me that I have all I need for life and godliness right here and now, and suddenly in spite of that, he’s telling me I can be totally irrelevant to the kingdom of God? How is that possible? And what can be done? Here are a few observations, thoughts and prayers.
Aristotle’s Peter’s Metaphysics
Peter unloads a cosmology on us in verse 4 that you might miss if you read over it too quickly.
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (II Peter 1:4)
If we can partake of the divine nature, there must be a divine nature, and there is. Here in our universe, there is something eternal, incorruptible, and pure. That is the divine part of creation. It coexists with the corruptible—and corrupt—part of creation that is decaying and perishing. Get the scene? Two realms are living side by side: one is eternal, one is temporal; one will never fade away, one is breaking down as we speak.
Lust broke the corruptible realm. I know, not what I would have thought of as the prime cause of cosmic destruction, right? Yet that’s what he says: lust, the longing for things forbidden–rebellion, essentially–is causing all we see around us in the entire cosmos to decay. Eeew.
As believers, we’re supposed to be fleeing from the perishing, degenerating, devolving cosmos and instead joining ourselves with the eternal realm and nature of God. That’s why we’re given the promises we’re given: they’re to help us escape!
That, in Peter’s view, is foundational. It’s a given: if you believe, you should be aware of these two realms, and you should be avoiding the one and clinging to the other.
How to Escape Corruption
But if lust is inherent in this cosmos, so how on earth can we possibly escape its degenerate effects?
We can’t. Christ can. Good news, no? Jesus makes it possible for us to escape. He’s the only one who can do that, and he has done it already. Now all we have to do is decide whether we will lust after the forbidden or flee to the eternal.
In the first four verses of II Peter 1, we are assured of all the things God has done for us. From verse 5 on, we are told what we need to know “besides” what god has done. God sets us up to win this thing, but we have a part to play in this story. We are in God’s hands, yes, but he has placed some things in our hands.
When Peter tells us to “add to” our faith “giving all diligence” (verse 5) he means we had better roll up are sleeves and get to work! People go all funny when you talk about working out your salvation, like it’s an insult to the work Christ has done. Actually, Christ did his part so that we would be free to walk in newness of life. We owe it to him to respond to what he did by doing what he asks us to do. Make sense? Good.
We’re expected to work at virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, and charity–really work at those, potentially strain a muscle or lose some sleep now and then from striving after them. Dearly beloved, here’s why that encourages me: I would not be told to work at these things if I could not expect to make progress! We can change things!
Your walk tomorrow can be better than it was today in all those categories. You can be more excellent in virtue, be more knowledgeable in Christ, be more temperate, be more patient, be more godly, be kinder, and have greater love tomorrow than what you have today.
However, you do have to work at it. You have the power to work at it. And that means, over and above simply growing in grace, by working on these things you will make yourself available to be used of God. As Peter puts it in verse 8, “if these things be in you, and abound, they make [you that ye shall] neither [be] barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s the verse that gives rise to the description of the person who is idle, lazy, and empty-handed when it comes to the purposes of Christ.
Seven Confessions and an Eighth
Surely this isn’t for your sake, but for my own sake and maybe for the sake of someone you know, I think II Peter 1 is worth praying in its opposite as a confession so that we can all be fruitful, abounding in life, and relevant to the kingdom of God.
Father in heaven, I have seen defeated people in your kingdom. I’ve felt it myself. I know how frustrating it is to want to serve you but find no opportunities. I pray that the most discouraged of your children will turn to you and find encouragement in your word. I pray that you forgive us for neglecting the part you want us to play in making our calling and election sure.
- Regarding a pursuit of virtue, Father in heaven, have mercy on us for the times we stopped striving for virtue. We stopped seeing our lives from your perspective and let go of our thoughts and our conduct. I’m sorry for thinking my own weaknesses were stronger than you are. I’m sorry for making idols of my vices and serving them instead of you. What a worthless pursuit. How utterly foolish, and yet how easy it is to slip into that. Help me keep the eternal kingdom before my eyes and see everything in light of it. Give me the desire to grow up in virtue, Lord.
- Knowledge: God, what a stumbling-block our own vain minds can be. Forgive us for the times we let our pride keep us from coming humbly to your word and to your feet to learn of you from you. I confess that I have feasted on the things that perish, refusing to eat from your table though you offered all you had, even your own flesh and blood, for me? To feed me? Forgive me for caring more about what someone or some organization thinks of me than what you think of me. Help me see the light, come to the light, examine myself in the light, and be a child of your light.
- Temperance: Forgive us for letting our desires and passions rule us; we admit to giving in to sensuality in food, drink, sleep, or other vain pleasures or dissipations. I confess that I have done a poor job of dying daily, denying myself, and picking up my cross and following you. Change my heart so that the luxuries of the world no longer compete with the joys of the spirit.
- Patience: Forgive us, Lord, for the times we became impatient, unable to endure, and inconsistent under pressure, for thinking it shouldn’t have to be so hard or that we shouldn’t have to see trials and tests–forgive me for the absurd thought that I could handle persecution when I can’t even handle disapproval. Build us up so that we can be ready for what’s to come, Lord.
- Godliness: Father in heaven, have mercy on us for acting and speaking in ways that misrepresent you entirely. Strike from the record, please, the things I have said that were impious, ungodly, irreverent, disrespectful, unholy. These sins are against you only, and how could I stand before your throne if you would not have compassion on me and blot them out? Bridle my tongue. And my mind. Don’t let me turn on you in my anger. Forgive me for being flippant when I should have been reverent. Let me always have a holy fear and reverence for you.
- Brotherly kindness: Lord, this is a hard thing even among believers. We confess that we have sometimes neglected to care deeply for our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We fake-fellowshipped, pretending to like people but having no real affection for them. We were hypocrites. Please remove the fear that keeps us from loving one another perfectly, maturely. Forgive us for where we have failed, and open our hearts to the ways your spirit is working to bind us together.
- Charity: Father, teach us to love like you love. We’re sorry for not striving for charity, the deep, wide, agape love that cannot be earned and cannot be lost. Let us taste it and see how good it is when we let you love through us. I’m sorry for shutting my heart to humanity, for my unmovable, cold heart. I pray that we would be willing to let you heal us of every deep hurt and disappointment so that we might love purely, fervently, completely.
- Last, Father, for those who haven’t fallen so far short of the mark in those seven things, I pray that you would forgive them if they have been staying in the shallow waters of virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly love, and charity. Don’t let us settle, but put it on our hearts to make every effort to continually, diligently, add these things to our faith, and add to them that they would grow in us and we would grow in you. All these things I ask in the name of Jesus, through his obedience and relying on his power and glory, through whom we have all things and hope all things, amen.