Dear Christian, in your struggle to put off the the sinful deeds of “old man” (that was crucified with Christ) and to put on the new man with the regenerate Christian manner of life (Romans 6; Titus 3.5-6; 1 Peter 1.3; Ephesians 4.22-24; Colossians 3.9-10), this is where you shall see for yourself, in your own life, the perseverance of a saint.
Total salvation belongs to the Christian, granted by the Triune God alone, though he or she does not receive it all-at-once. Salvation is often called a golden chain1 that has its origin in eternity past in the covenant of redemption, and manifests in our lives in our conversion and ongoing sanctification by the Spirit, and culminates in our future glorification and being with our Lord forever in eternity to come, in the new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness (see Romans 8.29-30; 2 Thessalonians 2.13; 2 Peter 3.13). Whatever pertains to salvation but is yet to come, is promised to Christians, and is sure and inevitable; for God has covenanted himself to give “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1.3) to those who are in Christ.
We understand, even as the apostle Paul himself emphasised, that salvation is not about things but about the restoration of our relationship with God. This restoration is done by God alone in the covenant of grace, in both the Old Testament and the New. “Ye are the temple of the living God,” Paul affirms, drawing from numerous places in the Old Testament scriptures; “as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6.16-18).
The people of God today are grafted into the one people of God of old—are are saved by the same Messiah, Jesus who saves his people form their sins, and their numbers are being added by Christ to his Church from every tongue, tribe and nation (see Romans 11.12-36; Matthew 1.21; 8.11; 16.18; Galatians 3.13-29; Ephesians 2.11-22; Revelation 7.9-10).
The covenant of grace is established by God with his people in all ages—past, present, and to come—and it is never broken. And for each of the Lord’s people, their salvation begun in the past (Ephesians 1.4; Revelation 13.8), was and is part of their present life (Matthew 11.28; John 1.12; 6.37; Acts 16.4; 1 Peter 1.21), and they have all that God has promised them still coming to them in droves!
With all these truths in his mind, Paul immediately follows what we have in 2 Corinthians 6.16-18 (see above) with this motivation: “Having therefore these [covenantal] promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7.1).
The apostle Peter similarly considers God’s promises a motivation for the godly Christian life. We Christians, through sovereign, irresistible grace “have obtained…precious faith” as a gift from God, even as Peter himself had received and those with him (2 Peter 1.1). And with this faith we receive abundantly multiplying grace and peace as we grow “through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord” (v.2).
This knowledge of our calling “to glory and virtue,” which we are taught by the Holy Spirit as we study the Holy Scriptures, makes us increasingly aware that we are the blessed recipients of the promised “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” through the work of God in our souls (v.3).
Therefore, Peter’s famous list of the marks of grace,2 which he commands Christians to add to their faith, consists of things which true Christians add to their faith.
“And beside this” (v.5), Peter continues with his teaching—seeing that God has given you so much, namely “all things that pertain to life and godliness” by his “divine power” (v.3)—you should now, therefore, “giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (vv.5-7).
Here are seven are evidences (or, marks) of God’s grace. As such, they must be gifted to us and worked within us by the Holy Spirit. Before we consider each in turn, let me emphasise this: we should not think that the links in Peter’s list are like degrees, levels or phases in the Christian life. We should seek to “add” all seven, or to improve ourselves by acquiring them, all at the same time. Each requires the growth of the others in order to its own growth.
Firstly, the apostle commands us to add virtue3 to our faith. In other words, moral excellence.
Mankind was originally created by God in God’s own image. This image involved a knowledge of the things of God, righteousness and true holiness (Genesis 1.26-27; Colossians 3.10; Ephesians 4.24). From this state, mankind fell into total depravity. In this fall, our original moral excellence was corrupted—we lost our virtue. Here Peter commands us to add it back—i.e. to manifest moral excellence in our Christian life.
All mankind ought to recognise that God’s moral law defines what is the true moral standard. We should all endeavour to live a life of virtue—as defined by God’s moral law. But fallen human beings tend to rebel against God’s virtue—they would rather keep any moral standard other than the full spiritual, holy, just and good law of God (see Psalms 14.1-3 and Romans 7.12; 8.7). Fallen men scoff at it, despise it, seek to destroy it wherever they find it, and to replace it with their own code of morality—their own definition of what is virtuous.
Where Peter teaches that we must add virtue to our faith, he means that we should not merely believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, but we must repent of our sins and—in place of our old sinful life—endeavour to live a life of moral excellence. Repentance involves turning from our sins with grief and hatred of our sins, and turning to virtue with a real love for God’s moral law.
Yours is not a true faith in Christ if you merely think inwardly that you are a Christian, while you do not repent of your sins and refuse to add virtue to your faith. If you have a real Christian faith in your heart—that is, if you truly place all your hope and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for your own salvation—then you will increasingly evidence it in a virtuous lifestyle. Thus the apostle Peter sets before you God’s command: “add to your faith virtue.”
Will you fear non-Christians, and flee to a deserted place in order to live away from the influences of men?4 Will you hide away and socialise only with Christians (or, with people who profess to be Christians)? Will you be coldly antisocial toward non-Christian neighbours, colleagues and acquaintances so that they never become aware that you are a Christian from observing the way you live? That kind of “invisible” or “hidden” life is the opposite of that to which Peter, and the Holy Spirit in his words, calls you to live. It’s not patently virtuous.
Dear Christian, show your faith by living as a Christian ought to live. Jesus commands you, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5.16). Bear the “fruit of the Spirit” at all times and in all company: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5.22-23).
In a word, add virtue to your faith.
The New Testament Greek word translated virtue here is αρετη (arete), meaning moral excellence (see W.E. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words). To avoid confusion, please note: in the gospels where it is said that “virtue” went out of the Lord Jesus Christ in order to heal the sick (Mark 5.30; Luke 6.19; 8.46), this is not the same word in The New Testament Greek. This virtue is δυναμις (dunamis)—which means energy or power (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary, number 1411). ↩︎
Some Christians may need to flee and become refugees during a time of violent persecution. But if you are not living through such a time then you should not engage in “world-flight,” or set up a separate community in which people outside your church (or denomination) are unwelcome, or become a hermit, or go “off-grid” in order to avoid non-Christian contact. Also, some Christians may live under difficult circumstances such as imprisonment, enslavement, limited freedom of movement, or be house-bound by illness or old age. We who have more liberty and capability should visit them and support them—in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 12.26. ↩︎