Brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things ye shall never fall. 2 Peter 1:10
What does it mean to make your calling and election sure? Some would say, “make sure you don’t lose your salvation!” Others, at the opposite end of the theological spectrum, might say, “make sure you really have salvation!” Yet neither of these interpretations is consistent with the context of 2 Peter, chapter one, or with the overall theme of the epistle.
If Peter is suggesting a believer can lose his salvation, then he is implying the means by which one stays saved is by diligently adding to his faith (v.5ff). Is that not works-salvation and totally contrary to the whole teaching of Scripture?
On the other hand, if Peter is suggesting the way a professing believer knows (in his conscience) he is truly saved is by diligently adding to his faith, then how does the professing believer measure whether he has added enough to prove to himself that he is saved? What if he has not added all of the things in the list? What if he backslides and reverts back to the beginning of the list? What if he stops adding for awhile? What if the believer thinks he has added sufficiently but others do not think he has? Does not man become the measure? Does not this interpretation fuel the fires of doubt regarding one’s salvation? The very thing (adding to faith) that purportedly makes one’s calling and election sure, actually makes it very unsure.
In order to properly interpret this passage, several observations must be made:
1. Peter assumes his readers are believers, not merely professing believers.
In verse 10 he addresses the audience as brethren. In verse 9 he claims that those who have not added to their faith have forgotten they had been purged from their old sins. He doesn’t say they were never saved; rather, he describes them as essentially forgetting they had been cleansed (regenerated). Furthermore, in verse one Peter addresses those who have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. There is no doubt, contextually, that Peter is addressing believers, not merely professing believers.
2. Peter is discussing sanctification, not justification.
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: (v.3)
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. (v.4)
Peter goes on in verse 3 to describe the positional sanctification that all believers possess in Christ. At salvation everything necessary for living a godly life is bestowed upon the child of God. There is no warning suggesting that positional sanctification can be revoked or that it may have never been received. In verse 4 Peter instructs as to the means by which believers can appropriate their positional sanctification in a practical manner: by claiming the promises. The overall thrust of this sanctification passage is as follows:
a. The Spirit has bestowed on us the enablement for living an abundant, victorious Christian life (v.3)
b. By claiming the promises of God we become participants in the nature of Jesus, which is always victorious over sin (v.4)
c. We access the promises by faith, which leads to further steps of obedience (v. 5-7)
And beside this, 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. (v.5-7)
Peter never suggests these believers are in some sort of experimental mode, the outcome of which will determine whether they are truly saved or not. Nor does he give any indication these believers need to demonstrate their salvation to others or to themselves in order to prove they are genuinely regenerated. He assumes they are already saved and speaks as if they are fully cognizant of and confident in this truth. Accordingly, he urges them to access the promises by faith and thereby take additional steps of obedience by adding to their faith. If they fail to do so, they are not casting doubt on their justification; rather, they are refusing to be sanctified.
But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. (v.9)
How foolish and shortsighted to ignore our God-given provision for becoming sanctified! The apostle Paul describes this spiritual condition as “carnal.” It will result in being saved at the Judgment Seat of Christ, yet so as by fire (1 Cor. 3:15).
3. Peter says those who make their calling and election sure will never fall, not prove or guarantee their salvation
For 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. (v.8)
How does one make his calling and election sure? By doing “these things,” that is, by diligently adding virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love to his faith. It’s a matter of sanctification, not justification.
When this kind of Christ-like obedience characterizes a child of God, he is neither barren (idle) nor unfruitful. In other words, he is a productive, fruit-bearing Christian. Such fruitfulness will be rewarded by Jesus at the Judgment Seat.
Furthermore, those who diligently add to their faith will never fall (v.10). The word translated fall is never used in the New Testament to refer to eternal condemnation. Rather, it refers to stumbling or failure. Thus, Peter is not saying that a professing believer will — by adding to his faith — be assured that he is not eternally condemned.
His point is that believers who are adding to their faith will not get tripped up or fail spiritually. In other words, to the extent the saint of God is walking in the Spirit, living the Christ-life (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 2:20; 5:16), he will not stumble. A similar idea is found in 1 John 2:10, He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. Abiding (remaining) in the light (obedience) keeps one from stumbling into sinful behavior.
Thus, making one’s calling and election sure has nothing to do with guaranteeing one’s justification. Nor is it about proving to one’s self (and perhaps to others) “I am truly saved,” but rather it is making sure one accesses the provision that has already been given at the point of regeneration.
4. Peter’s theme is perseverance that results in reward, not perseverance unto eternal life.
For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (v.10)
“Faithful living in difficult times” is the theme of 2 Peter.[i] The apostle warns of false teachers who promise “liberty,” (2:29) and thereby promote licentiousness. He also reminds his readers that earth will one day be destroyed, and the works that are therein shall be burned up (3:10). Peter uses these adverse circumstances as motivations to live righteously.
Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness …? (3:11)
Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. (3:14)
Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (3:17-18)
Notice Peter warns again in the very end of the epistle to not fall from … stedfastness. This is the same point made in chapter one. He is urging these believers not to stumble in their faithful Christian walk, to continue adding to their faith.
Perseverance is most definitely taught in chapter one and throughout the entire epistle. However, it is not perseverance that assures the professing believer he is truly saved, as has been demonstrated in the previous point, but perseverance that assures the actual believer of abundant reward.
In the context of 2 Peter 1, it becomes obvious that Peter’s reference to calling and election is not merely to the fact of God’s divine invitation and selection of us in salvation – the initial event – but rather to His ongoing purpose for saving us. In other words, we are called, but for what purpose? We are elected, but for what intent? In the context of this book we are elected unto obedient, holy living. That is why we are to add to our faith. Then we are called to persevere in that way of living, despite suffering, hardship or adverse circumstances of any type, knowing that one day we will give account to Jesus for how we fared while on earth.
Those who fare well will be given abundant entrance into his everlasting kingdom (which begins with the millennial kingdom). They will be inheritors of the kingdom who will rule and reign with Him for a thousand years. Those believers who live in carnality while on earth are blind and cannot see afar off (i.e., do not have eternal vision) and live as if they have forgotten they were ever saved. The implication of this passage – which is also clearly declared elsewhere in the New Testament – is that this latter group will not inherit the millennium or the new heaven/earth to follow. Though they will presumably dwell in the millennial earth, and will certainly live eternally in heaven, they will not receive the greater glory, they will not rule and reign with Jesus, and they will consciously regret it throughout the thousand years. They will suffer loss.
A biblical example of abundant entrance is Stephen. The Scriptures characterize him asfull of faith and power (Acts 6:8). He was a godly man who obviously added to his faith and walked with Jesus. As he was being martyred, Jesus gave him abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom — even in advance of the Judgment Seat. Stephen was granted the face of an angel (the glow of Christ on his face – see Acts 6:15); a glimpse of Jesus standing on the right hand of God (7:56); and a Christlike spirit toward his tormentors (Lord, lay not this sin to their charge – 7:60). Abundant entrance indeed.
In light of the coming Judgment Seat of Christ, may we all be diligent to add to our faith and thereby make our calling and election sure.
[i] Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck, editors. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament (Victor Books, 1983), 859.