Dear Christian, in your struggle to put off the “old man” with his sinful deeds and to put on the new man with the holy Christian manner of life (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.
In keeping with Paul’s doctrine in 2 Corinthians 7:11, the apostle Peter teaches us more concerning these same promises of the covenant of grace in 2 Peter 1, which promises he calls “exceeding great and precious” (2 Peter 1:4).
We Christians, says Peter, are those people who through sovereign, irresistible grace “have obtained…precious faith” as a gift from God, like as Peter himself and those with him had received (v.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 evidences (marks) of grace, 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 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 virtue2 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 depravity3. In this fall, our original moral excellence was corrupted—we lost our virtue. Here Peter commands us to add it to our Christian faith—i.e. to manifest moral excellence in our Christian life.
All mankind ought to recognise that the moral law of God 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 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.
Fallen human beings would rather keep any moral standard other than the full spiritual, holy, just and good law of God: “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7; see also Psalm 14:1-3 and Romans 7:12).
Where Peter teaches that we must “add to [our] faith virtue,” 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 sins start living a virtuous life. Repentance involves turning from our sins with grief and hatred of them, and turning to virtue with a real love for God’s 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 do not 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 men4? Will you hide away and socialise only with Christians (or, 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.
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.
“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 Greek word translated virtue here (αρετη, arete) means 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 Greek. This virtue is δυναμις (dunamis)—which means energy or power (Strong’s Concordnce).) ↩︎
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, 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. ↩︎