Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan.
And besides 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. 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. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. II Peter 1:5-9
The new Christians to whom Peter wrote this letter were troubled by false prophets. As a result their faith was shaken and they began to doubt God’s promises. So Peter begins his letter by assuring them that they possess the very same “precious faith” that he and the other apostles have (1). Then he reminds them that nothing less than God’s power has given them all that they need for life and godliness (3). Also, the knowledge of God’s great and precious promises ought to assure them that they have not only “escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust,” but also are made “partakers of the divine nature” (4).
God has given them much. For this reason (another way to translate “and besides this”) they are to add to their faith. A declaration of God’s gracious work is followed by a command. In giving faith, God graciously makes the recipients spiritually alive. Something that is alive is active. An inactive faith is barren and unfruitful, blind, and forgetful. Faith’s certain knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is evidenced in spiritual activity and growth!
The idea of “add to your faith” is that the life of believing is to be adorned or furnished. It is to bear fruit, and not be barren or unfruitful. When God begins a work, He continues it by working in us to will and to do His good pleasure. This does not imply that we work in our own strength or that we work independently of God. For as God works in us by His Spirit, that Spirit moves us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
You see, faith is a living bond. Faith puts one in connection with Jesus, who is life (John 11:25). Those saved in Jesus Christ are not made to be like rocks (dead and inanimate), but they are made alive, as branches in the vine. They are alive because they are put into union with Life itself. Our precious faith is not just a bond, but a living bond. Faith is exercised; and when it is exercised, then it is of the nature that it produces fruit. Faith without fruit is dead.
The fruit-bearing of our faith is to be done with “all diligence.” Diligence is an earnestness to accomplish something. It is a holy zeal and fervor that arise from awe at the wonder of being a recipient of God’s love. It is an intensity that strives to fill every moment with continual effort. Diligence sees time as a precious treasure that despises procrastination. Diligence realizes that the night is far spent and that the day is at hand.
Godly diligence is not just haste and activity; it is wise and well-ordered. Godly diligence maintains the motive of obedience to God’s command to work out our own salvation. Also it is motivated by a love that desires to please Him who loves us so much. And it is motivated by a knowledge that it has been purged or cleansed from all old sins.
Faith may be genuine but without diligence. Then it will produce only few and shriveled fruit. But faith accompanied “with all diligence” knows that it possesses, by God’s grace and power, all it needs for life and godliness. Therefore it will be diligent to bear fruit.
The furnishings that are to be added to faith are seven. Peter lists seven virtuous characteristics that are to grow out of the exercise of our precious faith. These seven all proceed from faith; they do not proceed one from the other in a sequence. It is also worthy of note that these fruits are invisible to the eye—they are inner characteristics that begin where they are invisible.
Genuine faith bears the fruit of “virtue.” Virtue is a moral excellence, a spiritual sensitivity to God’s goodness. It is a way of thinking that manifests itself in a walk or behavior that characterizes an honest, well-ordered, good life. The faith that unites each one of the elect to the risen, living Savior seeks to keep God’s commandments in every area of life because it knows God and His goodness.
Faith also wants to grow in its “knowledge” of God and of the Lord Jesus (cf. 3:18). Faith is a love that wants to know more and more about the Father and the Savior, so it seeks to know more and more of God’s revelation of Himself and of His Son in the Scriptures. This is a knowledge of what God has given and promised. It is a knowledge that remains unshaken by the false prophets, for knowledge of God’s Word removes confusion and fear, providing solid comfort.
Precious faith bears the fruit of “temperance” (self-control), which flows from a close relationship with Jesus. This temperance is not merely legalistic prohibition nor an abstinence (as celibacy). Rather, it is a control of our ever-present desires and lusts by exercising faith. Our knowledge (love for God) gives us the power that refuses to give free rein to our self-centered desires. Self-control keeps our desires under control because we are concerned about the honor of our God and Christ.
Faith always leads to “patience,” that is, an enduring grasp of the Savior and knowing His attitude (along with that of His Father) toward me. It is an inward spiritual ability to continue even in the face of much opposition and great frustration. It is a perseverance to love my Savior and Lord and then to obey Him out of that love.
Faith also bears the fruit of “godliness.” Godliness is a reverent, worshipful attitude and conduct because of a pervasive awareness of God. It is living as before His face. This is not fear in the sense of terror, but it is like the awe of a humble servant who is attentive to the wishes of his master. Godliness is a sincere devotion to God, over against being spiritually lethargic and indifferent.
Genuine faith also bears the fruit of “brotherly kindness.” Arising out of faith’s relationship with God and Christ is a relationship with others who have the same relationship. A right relationship with Jesus leads to a sincere desire to be useful and beneficial to our spiritual siblings. He who does not love his brother (whom he sees) cannot love his Father whom he cannot see. One with faith genuinely cares for his brothers and sisters in Christ.
And faith is adorned by “love.” Faith eagerly seeks to render grateful returns of ardent love to Him who manifested so great love toward us. One with faith is not only in awe of God, but also dearly loves his Father and his Savior and Lord. And love for others is a reflection of God’s love for us and of our love for Him.
We are commanded to add to (adorn) our faith. But we are also given incentive to do so. He who does not seek to exercise a faith that bears fruit is “blind” spiritually (9). He has “forgotten” that salvation means that he has been “purged from his old sins.” We have been changed by justification. We were dead in sin, but “ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:11). As believers we ought not be so blind, so spiritually lethargic or lazy.
Rather, may these fruits “be in you and abound” (8). May our unending confession be that we are sorry for not serving our Father with the zeal we ought. Let us pray continually that the “knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” not be “barren and unfruitful,” but that we will always want to furnish or adorn our faith with every good work.