I recently did some reading in Church history and one of the things I learned is that 2 Pet 1:10 was often used to teach that a person cannot know if he or she is spiritually saved unless they look at their good works. That is still true today. In this verse, Peter says that his readers should “give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (KJV). Only in this way would they experience an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom of Christ (v 11).
Many people believe that these verses were written by Peter to tell his readers that the only way they could know if they were children of God is if they diligently kept working. This implies that Peter doubted the salvation of at least some of his readers, or at least entertained the idea that it was a possibility. If they looked at their lives and did not see these works, or if they stopped doing works in the future, they would have every reason to doubt that they were true believers. It is our works that make our “calling and election sure” and that give us assurance that we are saved.
It is certainly true that, in the context, Peter is speaking about good works. In vv 5-8 Peter tells his readers that they should strive to add to their faith such things as virtue, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. However, even though Peter is speaking about good works, we need to ask if Peter doubts the salvation of some of his readers or if he feels that these good works are needed if one is to be sure they will be in Christ’s kingdom. There are reasons to conclude that this is not what Peter means.
Peter Does Not Doubt the Salvation of His Readers
It is difficult to see how Peter could have made it any clearer that he considered his readers to be true believers in Jesus Christ. He tells them that they have the same faith as he does (v 1). He asks that grace be “multiplied” to them (v 2). God has given them all things in relation to life and godliness and has called them to glory (v 3). They have escaped the corruption that is in the world (v 4). They are exhorted to add good works to the faith that they already have (v 5). Even in v 10 Peter calls them “brethren.”
Of course, many today would say that Peter is simply assuming that his readers are believers. However, Peter cannot say for certain that they are. The only way they can know that they have eternal life is if they do all these works. If virtue, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love are not evident in their lives then the readers should not have assurance. They should lack this assurance even if Peter assumes they are believers for the sake of argument.
But should a Christian look for assurance of salvation in his or her works? Is that what Peter is warning his readers about? Most assuredly it is not.
Assurance of Salvation Is Found in Christ, Not Our Works
When a person believes in Jesus Christ for eternal life, he or she receives it as a free gift at that instant. Our assurance is found in the promise of Jesus Christ, not our works. Even after we believe we continue to sin. If we look at our works, we will always find room to doubt our salvation. We would never have assurance.
The very nature of salvation, that it is a gift by God’s grace (Eph 2:8-9), implies that it is ours even if we abuse God’s grace. A gift, by definition, has no strings attached. God does not give us a gift and then say we must have works to prove we possess it.
Jesus also made it clear that we can know we have eternal life. To the woman at the well, He said if she simply believed in who He was and that He could give her the gift of eternal life, it would be hers (John 4:10). There were no strings attached to the offer. There were no demands that she had to clean up her life first to assure herself that she possessed the gift.
To Martha, at the tomb of Lazarus, He said that He was the Resurrection and the Life. He who believed in Him would rise from the dead if he or she died, and would also have a life that would never end (John 11:25-26). Once again, it is a free offer. Works are not even mentioned.
In 1 John, the Apostle speaks about the gift of eternal life. It is given to all who believe in what God has told us about His Son. The one who believes God’s word, that God gives eternal life to all who believe in Christ, have it (1 John 5:9-12). He then says that those who believe know they have eternal life (5:3). They know it because it is based upon the promise of God.
Scripture tells us that if we look to Jesus Christ and His promise of eternal life, we have assurance. If we look anywhere else we will have doubts. We should notice that Peter himself is not saying that if we don’t have works we aren’t really spiritually saved. In this passage, after he speaks of good works, he says that if his readers lack these things they have forgotten that they had been purged from their sins (2 Pet 1:9). He does not say that if they don’t have good works they were not purged from their sins, he says that they have forgotten that they have been forgiven. Even if these readers did not do these good works, they were still forgiven people.
But if Peter is not saying that a person must have good works in order to have assurance, what does he mean?
Making Our Calling and Election Sure
God has called and elected the believer. But the question is: What has He called believers to? One possible answer is that He has called believers to good works. The word for “sure” in v 10 has the basic meaning of valid, consistent, or something that can be relied upon. Peter is telling his believing readers that they are to make their election and calling sure. If God has called believers to good works, then they should be consistent in doing what God has called them to do.
Another option is that Peter is telling his believing readers that they are to do good works in order to validate to others that they are children of God. When believers live godly lives others see Christ in them. It makes their salvation evident before others. While the believer knows he or she has eternal life by faith alone in Christ, others “see” that life in our actions.
But what awaits the believer who lives a life of obedience to the Lord? Many have simply assumed that in v 11 Peter only means that such a believer will enter into the kingdom. In the words of many today, such a believer will simply go to heaven. But it is clear that Peter means more than that.
An Abundant Entrance
Peter does not say that the believer who adds good works to his or her faith will enter into Christ’s kingdom. Instead, he says such a believer will have an abundant entrance. The word used for abundantly has the basic meaning of “richly.” The believer who is faithful to the Lord will not simply enter into the kingdom of God, he or she will have a very rich entrance.
One gets the picture here of a conquering hero. I remember when I was in the military, my unit returned from a short combat tour in Panama. We were the first unit to parachute into combat from our division since World War Two. We had accomplished our mission in that Central American country.
When we returned, we parachuted back into North Carolina. Our friends and family were on the edge of the drop zone waiting for us. When all of us reached the ground, we formed up and marched towards them.
In front of the stands there was a band playing patriotic songs. When we marched over a hill into view of our families and friends, they burst into applause. Television cameras were everywhere. The unit had returned as conquering soldiers.
That is the picture Peter paints of the obedient believer’s entrance into the kingdom. While every believer will enter into that kingdom, the faithful obedient believer will experience an abundant entrance. One can picture the Lord saying to such a believer, “Well done.”
Peter does not doubt the eternal salvation of his readers. Neither does he tell them to find assurance of their salvation in good works. But he does exhort and warn them.
He urges them to add good works to their faith. This will allow others to see Christ at work in them. In addition, such a life will result in an entrance into the kingdom that can be compared to a conquering hero. It is easy to see the difference at the Judgment Seat of Christ between a disobedient and obedient believer. The former will experience the loss of rewards and shame. The latter will have a “rich” experience of eternal rewards and the commendation of the Lord.
Implied in all of this, of course, is a warning. Believers are warned about the possibility of living a life that dishonors the Lord. Such a life is one lived by somebody who has forgotten that Christ has forgiven him. Such a life is one that does not manifest the righteousness of God to others. Such a life will result in a shameful entrance into the kingdom. Even though such believers have eternal life, this is a very serious warning indeed.