I recently received a request to discuss 2 Peter 1:10. A reader wrote, “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that [based on 2 Peter 1:10] assurance of salvation is to be based upon works . . . Can you shed any light on this matter?”
The verse reads: “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.”
What must a person do to have this “certainty”? The context makes it clear that one must “practice these things” (2 Peter 1:10) – that is, he must live a godly life (2 Peter 1:5-8). It is an unmistakable conclusion that the “certainty” in question here is conditioned upon good works.
The key to understanding this verse, then, is unlocking the meaning of the word translated “certain”. Fortunately the term is used again by Peter in 2 Peter 1:19 (except that there it is in the comparative form, that is, there it has a suffix which adds the sense of “more” to its meaning). In that verse Peter speaks of the prophetic word having been made “more sure.” What does he mean? Were the Old Testament prophecies regarding Christ’s Second Coming uncertain and less than sure before that point? No, of course not. In verses 16-18 Peter was referring to the transfiguration of Jesus which he witnessed on the Mount of Transfiguration. Verse 19 thus means that the Mount of Transfiguration experience “further verifies” or “more fully demonstrates” the Old Testament prophecies regarding the second coming of the Messiah, His coming to rule and reign in glory. The certainty never changed, but the amount of evidence did.
Therefore, verse 10 actually means something like this: “be all the more diligent to demonstrate His calling and choosing you. . .” Showing others that we are saved, not personal assurance, is Peter’s point. We demonstrate our new nature to others by living a godly life. However, we know that we are saved on the basis of the Scriptures’ promise that whoever believes in Jesus Christ as his Savior has eternal life (e.g., John 3:16; 5:24; Romans 5:1; 8:38-39; I John 5:11-13).
Imagine that you owned a house but had lost the deed. Until you were able to obtain a copy of the deed you would be unable to demonstrate or verify that you owned the house. Did you own it? Yes. However, there is a difference between possessing something and being able to demonstrate that it is yours. Such is the case with eternal life. We have eternal life by grace through faith. We demonstrate the eternal life of God within us by exhibiting a life of moral excellence and godliness.
What if a believer fails to be diligent in developing a godly character? Then he will fall (v. 10b) and he will not obtain an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom (v.11). All believers will enter the kingdom. However, only faithful ones will have a special abundance of life eternally (cf. I Peter 5:4; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 6:19-21). God has given us the power to obey Him. Oh, that we might apply that power to please Him now. The degree to which we do so will determine how abundant our eternal experience will be.