In just the first five words, Peter had already said much. It was customary to begin a letter with a statement of who it was from, but Peter’s name and station in life held within it great meaning.
“Listen,” he might have said, “and take in what you read, for it will make you strong and enduring, an immovable rock of faith.”
“I give this to you as a born bondman, one who did not have a choice, but was born (anew) into belonging to Almighty God as God’s slave—yet of higher rank than even the emperor of Rome (who rules the world), for I belong to the King of all kings (even Caesar, the emperor of Rome), and the Lord of all Lords (every pantheon of gods). And it is the Lord God who has chosen to make me an apostle of the Gospel, a bondman to Messiah.”
Next, Peter would identify his readers as having the same lot as himself, also born bondmen and bondwomen to God and to Christ.
ἐπίγνωσις | epignosis
Simeon Peter, slave and apostle of Jesus Messiah, to those who have received a faith of equal honor and value as ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Messiah,
Grace to you and peace multiplied in full discernment and knowledge [ἐπίγνωσις, epignosos] of God and Jesus our Lord.
While by his divine miraculous power everything for life and godliness has been bestowed to you through the full discernment and knowledge of the one calling us by his own glory, praise, and renown.2 Peter 1:1-3 (my translation)
As you and I grow in knowing God, growing in our relationship with God’s Son, grace and peace will be multiplied in our life experiences. “All things” flow from knowing God, being filled with God’s Spirit. “Knowledge,” the Greek term epignosis, means experiential knowledge, fuller and deeper than just intellectually knowing something, it is a full discernment, full knowledge, recognition.
And through that knowledge—astonishingly—everything we would ever need for life, and for godliness, to be holy as God is holy, has already been bestowed to us. It is a divine work, a work of miraculous power that God has done through Jesus.
It has changed the way I pray.
So often, I have prayed for strength, or courage, or wherewithal, for wisdom, for supernatural enabling. But, Peter is saying, I already have all that.
Because I have Jesus.
You and I who have put our faith in Christ, who have received the Spirit of Christ, have all that God is ever going to give us: all the power and all the things that pertain to life and godliness, through this full and deep experiential knowledge, epignosis, of Jesus.
Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become partakers and sharers of the divine nature.2 Peter 1:4 (mostly NRSV)
Of course, the promise of salvation through Jesus.
But, even though you and I have everything we need to glorify God, Peter indicated that God will not use divine power to force you or me to do what is right.
With this in view, giving all zeal, diligence, and earnestness, add to your faith . . .2 Peter 1:5 (my translation)
God makes us able. We have the ability to develop good habits. But, you and I also have the responsibility, with the wealth God has given us in Christ, to add to that ability our own zeal, diligence, and earnestness. We have the responsibility to wisely allocate those inner resources (usually at great cost) to the development of God’s character in living by God’s word.
It is an interesting perspective, two truths that must be held loosely together, for we know the transformation of our inner beings is God’s purview, it is a divine work. Yet, as Peter wrote here, this divine work requires our cooperation, our own diligence and zeal to co-labor with God.
Add To Your Faith
Adding to our faith in this way is pleasing to God.
I say this because of what Peter wrote next.
All the more, then, my friends, do your utmost to establish that God has called and chosen you. If you do this, you will never stumble, and there will be rich provisions for your entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.2 Peter 1:10-11(The Revised English Bible)
How do we balance a statement like that with what we have been taught throughout Apostle Paul’s letters, and by Jesus himself?
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
For we are what [God] has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.Apostle Paul, Ephesians 2:8-10 (NRSV)
We keep in mind there is nothing you and I could do to earn salvation. We cannot make ourselves alive, let alone grow. But we can stunt our growth, or cooperate with God’s divine work of growth by adding to our faith.
Fruit of the Spirit
. . . with goodness (virtue), and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control (temperance), and self-control with patient endurance (perseverance), and patient endurance with godliness (holiness), and godliness with brotherly (and sisterly) love and kindness (philadelphia), and familial love with sacrificial love (agape).2 Peter 1:5-7 (mostly NRSV)
Faith Is the beginning point. Genuine faith results in God’s gift of eternal life to a spiritually dead person. Having received that life the believer is now to add
Virtue This is the same word found in verse 3 as the character of Jesus, and the way a believer adds virtue to their faith is to act in such a way as to reflect the moral excellence of Jesus who now dwells within them. The believer chooses goodness instead of corruption.
Knowledge (gnosis), practical wisdom, gained by applying truth to our lives as we come to understand the truth.
Self‑control or temperance means mastering our moods, our appetites, and our passions, instead of being controlled by them. In Peter’s day, Gnosticism was starting to gain traction among the Christians communities, with its promises of secret knowledge, navigating the mysteries of the spiritual realm, and entering into the ecstasies of spiritual rapture. These false teachers were saying that knowledge freed them from the need to control their passions.
Paul also taught that our inner beings are ours to discipline, and it is a part of our calling of God to take responsibility for that work of gaining discipline.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh . . .
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.Apostle Paul, Galatians 5:16-17, 22-25 (NRSV)
Patient Endurance or perseverance naturally follows because in exercising self‑control we know better than to give in to discouragement that would tempt us to quit, or to erupt in anger or despair. The habit of seeing all circumstances as coming from a loving Father’s hand Who is in control of all events is one of the secrets of perseverance.
Godliness or holiness is the continual awareness of God’s presence affecting every aspect of life, delighting in the Lord.
Brotherly and sisterly love and kindness or philadelphia is serving one another, sharing with one another, practically and intimately; and praying for one another. Which leads to
Sacrificial love or agape, God’s kind of love which originates not in the one loved but in the one who loves. God loves because God is love; you and I are to love, because we are of God! It reaches beyond the Christian community to love anyone, anywhere, seeking that person’s highest good, even when it is costly to ourselves.
[Stained glass window at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, depicting the Fruits of the Holy Spirit along with role models representing them, i.e. the Good Shepherd representing love, an angel holding a scroll of Gloria in Excelsis Deo representing joy and Jesus Christ, Job representing longsuffering, Jonathan faith, Ruth gentleness and goodness, Moses meekness, and John the Baptist temperance. Executed by Hardman & Co. in the 1870s. | By Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24579501%5D