November 17, 2002
By God’s grace and provision in the cross, believers in Christ have escaped from evil and sin. But how do we continue in the Christian life? The apostle Peter described a progression toward Christian maturity and explained the consequences if we do—or don’t—persevere. Alistair Begg helps us understand Peter’s teaching and challenges us to keep growing in our faith, resisting disobedience that can lead to doubt and ineffectiveness.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Father, already it’s been a long day. And now, with the darkness around us on the outside, we pray that the light of the truth of your glorious grace may shine into the deadness of hearts that don’t believe, into the confusion of hearts that falter, and into the hearts that desire to follow hard after you. Only you, O God, can bring your Word to bear upon such a diverse group of people, and to you alone we look. Speak to us now through this book, the Bible. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Peter, the disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, a faithful follower, known for his ability to make great leaps of faith and also his ability to leap into oblivion, once he had been settled and strengthened and equipped, was encouraged by the Lord Jesus to make sure that he strengthened those who believed. And one of the ways in which he exercised that ministry was by writing two letters—the first, which runs to five chapters, and the second, which has three chapters. And it is through this second letter that we’ve been going for the last little while, trying to understand the nature of what Peter is sharing. And the verses before us this evening are essentially verses 8 and 9, 10, and 11, and we will see how far we get.
“For if you possess these qualities”—that’s the list he’s just been referring to—“in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he[’s] nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he[’s] been cleansed from his past sins.
“[And] therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Now, this material is written to those who have received these “great and precious promises” to which he refers. They are those who have received these “very great and precious promises” and, as a result of that, have experienced what we might refer to as “the great escape.” Some of us may, in thinking of “the great escape,” immediately think of Steve McQueen and some others and that classic old movie, and it certainly was a unique escape. But the greatest escape that the world will ever see and ever a man or a woman will know is the escape from the clutches of evil and sin and Satan—an escape which man or woman cannot by their own endeavors effect, but an escape which is made possible as a result of the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross.
And so, to these individuals who have experienced this great escape, having trusted and believed in Christ and then having based their lives upon these tremendous promises of the gospel, he urges these individuals to make sure that their faith is not something that is static, momentary, but rather that it is a progressive experience and one that is marked by the addition to their profession of faith this list of things which he gives to us in verses 5, 6, and 7.
Now, having done that, he then says, “I want you to know that this list, when it is present, is going to have a tremendous impact in your lives.” And he introduces three very important statements with the two-lettered word “if.” “If.” And if we were asked to define if, most of us would be hard-pressed. A blank sheet of paper: “Write down the definition of if.” I tried it myself, and I couldn’t do it at all. So I went to the Oxford English Dictionary, and this is what it said: “If: a conjunction introducing a condition where the question of fulfillment or nonfulfillment is left open.” “A conjunction introducing a condition where the question of fulfillment or nonfulfillment is left open.” That’s tremendously helpful, because he uses this little word on three separate occasions, and in every instance it is of vital importance.
The first occasion I want you to note is there in verse 8: “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure…” “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure,” what will happen? Well, they will have a preventative effect in your life. Instead of allowing the grass to grow under our feet as a result of laziness or as a result of slackness, the presence of these qualities will result in all of our days counting for something and counting for someone. Who wants to live their lives being ineffective and unproductive? Obviously, nobody does. Who would want to profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and then discover that there was no fruit that was emerging, there was no effectiveness in the way in which they were living? And they would have reason to be concerned. “Why,” they might say to themselves, “is it that I am both ineffective and unproductive?”
One possible explanation is, of course, that this individual has never actually experienced the great escape, never entered into these “great and precious promises,” and consequently, such an individual finds the exhortation of verses 5, 6, and 7 just a chronicle of despair. It sounds as if this is something that you do, and when you get enough of these, you can finally consider yourself a Christian. But of course, that’s to stand it all on its head. That is the reverse of what’s being said. None of us by doing anything at all, except believing, except trusting, can ever have a basis on which to consider ourselves real followers of Jesus. But once having believed, once having trusted, once having—in the terminology a verse or two above—once having “received” this faith—having “received” this faith—then we may, by the enabling of God, add to our faith all of these elements which speak of his work within our lives: goodness and self-control, the wonder of perseverance, the beauty of godliness, the attractiveness of love. All of these things, says Peter, working in our daily routine, keep us from discovering our lives to become like a wayward, unruly garden. In the book of Proverbs, Solomon says of a garden, “Thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.”
Now, if my life in professing faith in the Lord Jesus is like that, I have reason to be concerned. And that is why Peter writes as he does. He actually, by means of this conjunction—threefold use of this conjunction—he is asking those who profess faith in Jesus Christ essentially to examine what they’re doing and to examine where they’re going.
In verse 9, once again he says “if”: “If anyone does not have these things, then he is nearsighted, and he is blind, and he has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” In other words, this individual who is not adding to their faith has somehow or another lost sight of their personal interest in what Jesus has done upon the cross. When a person does not make progress in the Christian life, it is directly related to a loss of wonder at who Jesus is and what he has done. Such an individual has forgotten that they have been forgiven and that they have been sanctified, and as a result of having taken their eyes off this, then they appear to be wandering around like a nearsighted man, blind and unable to make sense of where they’re going.
If you do not have these—the man or the woman that doesn’t have them looks like a stumbler and has apparently forgotten what is true of them in Jesus. Martin Lloyd-Jones says such an individual has displayed an ignorance of the “fundamental purpose of the Christian life.” They’re like a person who enjoys golf and enjoys now the exercise and the companionship and the equipment but somehow or another has lost sight of the fact that what he’s supposed to do is get the ball in the hole. And he likes to go out, and he likes to talk, and he likes the grass, and he likes the clubs, and he likes the people. And every so often someone says to him, “Did you ever think about trying to get the ball in the hole?” “Oh, no,” he said, “not really. I just enjoy being out here.” You say, “Well, you’ve forgotten the whole purpose of coming out here!” And when you find somebody who professes faith in Jesus Christ, and they simply like to wander along up and down the fairways, as it were, of religion, glad of the companionship, glad of the opportunity to be out and about, as it were, but somehow or another have taken their eyes off the cross and are not involved in sharing this good news with others, then you discover that they are identified clearly in this description here.
You see, the issue that is before us in this little section—and it is quite daunting—is simply this: that if you climb a mountain, it is impossible to reach the summit without exertion and without focus. And the living of the Christian life is all of grace and yet all of our endeavor. As God by his grace enables us, so we give ourselves wholeheartedly to it. And when we fail to make progress, as it were, up the mountainside, when we let go of the summit because it seems far too daunting in prospect, and we pitch our tents down in the plains, then we create the impression, at least to the observer, that actually, we somehow or another have forgotten that the whole purpose of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ was “to redeem us from all wickedness … to purify for himself a people that are his very own,” as Paul says, and “eager to do … good.”
And the notion here of past sins I think probably refers to he has forgotten that he was forgiven for all of those sins that marked his life or marked her life before she came to trust in the Lord Jesus, before she received his “great and precious promises.” He’s forgotten all of that. And the antidote to it is to be reminded through the teaching of the Bible and through the emphasis on the gospel of the Lord Jesus. The hymn writer says,
Tell me the story often,
For I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning
Has passed away at noon.
And there is nothing sadder in Christian pilgrimage, and certainly from the vantage point of pastoral ministry, to see believing people, Christians, who in the early afternoon of their profession of faith have fallen asleep, have lost out, have failed to keep themselves in the love of God, have failed to keep themselves from ineffectiveness. And when you look at them, you say, “Somehow or another, they have just lost out.” That is the only phrase I can use to describe them. Their lives are not attractive. Their lives are not overflowing. Their lives are patently ineffective. Their lives are singularly unproductive, despite the fact that God has granted to them these “great and precious promises.”
When you think about the great words of doxology in Jude, “Now unto him [who] is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless,” and you say to yourself, “My, that is a wonderful promise and a great benediction to begin a new week”—and, of course, it is. But how does God keep us from falling? He doesn’t keep us from falling in a vacuum. He doesn’t keep us from falling by some strange and peculiar mechanisms. He keeps us from falling by directing us to the truth of the Bible itself.
So he says to us, “Now, come on! I want you to make every effort. I want you to make sure that you’re adding to your faith all of these things. And I want you to know that if you do, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive. Therefore, I want you to know that if you don’t, you will be ineffective and unproductive. I want you to know that if you do have them, you show that you understand the wonder of what God has done for you in Jesus. If you don’t have them, then you apparently are wandering around nearsighted and you have forgotten that you have been cleansed from your sins.”
You see, the great antidote to failure here is to have the gospel told to us again and again and again, to have our gaze turned to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we might understand that none of us can put ourselves in a right standing with God by means of our endeavors; that none of us can be put in a right standing with God as a result of what others do for us—religious professionals—but the only way that we’re put in a right standing with God is by coming and trusting and believing that in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, there he made atonement for my sins.
And the message of the gospel is to repent and to believe it—to come into the way so that we may then walk in the way. And the Bible tells us that nothing prevents us from coming into the way, except our ignorance. “I never understood the gospel,” says someone. “I’ve been a religious person all my life. I thought the gospel was you just did this and this and this. I didn’t know anything about this.” Ignorance may keep us from the gospel. Unbelief will keep us from the gospel: “I choose not to believe that.” Our depravity will keep us from the gospel—turning our back on God and going our own way. And willfulness will keep us from the gospel. But if we would listen to the call of mercy, if we would believe on the testimony of God, if we would embrace the promise of salvation, if we would receive the gift of reconciliation, then we walk out on this path.
Now, that, again, is summarized in the same hymn:
Tell me the story often …
Tell me the story simply,
As to a little child;
For I am weak and weary,
And helpless and defiled.
And those of us who think we’re standing very firm, we need the gospel preached to us just as much as anybody else, because in a moment we may wobble and topple.
At the last occasion when I had to go to the doctor for a physical, he had me at one point—and I’m sure you’ve experienced this too—he had me close my eyes and stand still. And it was a harder proposition than I realized, especially when he said, “Now do it with your arms straight out in front of you and on one leg.” And I’m not sure just exactly what he was trying to do, but apparently, I passed. He gave me something to take home—a sticker or something. I don’t know. But it’s actually quite tough, isn’t it, just standing still? Especially when it’s dark. And the Christian life is tough. “Having done all, to stand,” says Paul in Ephesians 6—when you’ve done everything to stand like a soldier in the face of battle. Nobody ever said this was easy. Chocolate soldiers melt in the heat. It takes a real soldier to stand in the face of battle. “Tell me the story always,” says the hymn writer, “if you would really be, in any time of trouble, a comforter to me.”
Now, the third and final “if” is in verse 10. Verse 10: “Be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For”—again, notice—“if you do these things, you will never fall.” The correlative statement, of course, is straightforward, isn’t it? If you don’t do these things, you will fall. It’s pretty straightforward. If you do them, you don’t fall. You don’t do them, you fall. So who in their right mind would not do them?
And some of us who have come out of a week or a month or a life of stumbling and falling and getting up and falling suddenly open the Bible and look at this and say, “Aha!” It’s a moment of great revelation. “Here I’ve been trying to find this thing somewhere. I’ve been expecting to find it behind the branch of a tree or hanging somewhere—the great secret to the whole mechanism, you know. And if I can just grab it for a moment or two, suddenly it will all become apparent.” No, it won’t. No, it won’t. He has given “great and precious promises.” We may believe them. And in believing them, we then add to the faith which opens the door. And then, having gone down that path, we discover all of the benefit and contentment that is showered upon the life that is doing these things.
But the warnings in the Bible are real warnings, even as the promises are precious promises. And they serve as motivators to us that we might continue, that we might be diligent in the things of the Lord Jesus Christ. The hymn writer says, “The work which his goodness began the arm of his strength will complete.” But again I say to you: not in a vacuum. God ordains that his own will persevere, but he also ordains the means whereby we will persevere. And if we do not persevere in the way in which he prescribes, then the prospect is that we will fall.
Fall where? Well, we’ll fall into sin. If you fail to go forward, you definitely go back. Faith is like a muscle: you exercise it, it grows; you leave it alone, it atrophies. “If you do these things, you will never fall.” If you don’t, you will. Falling into sin. Falling into apostasy. Not that any real partaker of God’s grace can be a castaway, but what do we know? We know that not everyone who professes to be a follower of Jesus continues to the end. Not all who profess to follow Christ continue to the end. In nineteen years at Parkside Church, there have been people who have given glowing testimonies in their baptism. They can’t be found. They apparently have forgotten that they were cleansed from their past sins. They apparently are nearsighted and blind. They are patently ineffective. They’re horribly unproductive. They have fallen. And eventually, a man or a woman will fall into hell. This is not some little stumble and fall by the wayside: “Ope, I fell!” We’re talking here about a fall that is eternal in its significance.
Now, you see, what he is doing here is issuing both a warning and an encouragement. He is, in reverse, providing all of the advantages to us of compliance. “If you possess these qualities,” he says, “you’re going to be active, and you’re going to be fruitful.” Knowledge of spiritual things grows with spiritual experience. But neglect of duty, the fiddling around with sin, is like an anesthetic: it numbs us, and it clouds our gaze. Failure to fulfill the call of duty and a willingness to muck around with obvious sin will never, in your life or in mine, be accompanied by the experience of assurance. There is not a possibility—except that it would come from the Evil One as a dark delusion—there is not a possibility of moving in the direction of spiritual declension and enjoying simultaneously a deep sense of assurance that your sins are forgiven. Do you understand that?
In other words, in a phrase: disobedience and assurance don’t sleep in the same bed. Disobedience and assurance don’t sleep in the same bed. And that’s why the writer is saying what he’s saying. “I’m telling you,” says Peter, “if you do these things, then I can guarantee you that your spiritual experience will be matured and it will be developed. But if you fail to do so, then your assurance will be shaken. You will live with doubts, and you will live with fears. And there won’t be sufficient incentive for you to press on to the end.”
Now, when he goes forward from there and adds this wonderful picture in verse 11—it is a terrific picture: “And you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” I’ve always thought of that in terms of the returning athlete. This week, as I studied it, I got another picture of it. The picture that I received from my reading was that of vessels returning to harbor—returning in full sail, returning with all of the bounty and victory of their journeys and coming into port to all of the welcome and heraldry and joy of their loved ones, who are beckoning them in at the arrival in the harbor area—as opposed to a vessel that comes in beleaguered and buffeted and burned and listing to one side and struggling, with sailors that are all fractured and famished and shipwrecked and torn. And their friends, oh, they’ll welcome them, but it’s almost embarrassing to welcome them. What do you say? You can’t say, “Good job,” you know. You can’t say, “Well done.” You can’t say, “Boy, do you look good!” You know, what do you say? You say, “Well, I guess you made it.” You know, “Glad to see you. Glad you’re in.”
Why do I mention this? Because in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul says that it is possible to reach heaven like a shipwrecked sailor in a burned-out boat. And Peter says in 2 Peter 1, it is possible to reach heaven in a vast galleon in full sail with a great military welcome and all of the bands playing.
Now, let me ask you: Did you want to graduate bottom of your class? Was that your plan? Did you at least give it a try? Of course you wanted to do your best, if you had any common gumption at all. Who wants to arrive last and least and lowest? Who wants to get in by the seat of their pants, especially if we have the opportunity to arrive in all of the full sail and the marvelous welcome?
Peter writes—look at his callused fisherman’s hands as he takes his scroll and as he pens it, or as he dictates it to his secretary, and they write it down—he says, “Tell these people, write to them this: ‘If you do this, I can guarantee you. But if you don’t, I’m telling you… Because I had a flavor of the don’t,’” says Peter. “Because out there, in the coldness of that night, by that fireside, when that girl came to me and she said, ‘Don’t you know Jesus of Nazareth?’—and I said, ‘No, I don’t know Jesus of Nazareth.’ And she said, ‘Well, that’s awfully funny, because you speak like a Galilean. It would appear even from your accent that you might be one of them.’ And I said, ‘No, I do not know Jesus of Nazareth.’ And on the third occasion, I told her in no uncertain terms, ‘I don’t know him. I’ve got nothing to do with him at all.’” So what was it that brought him through? Human effort? Divine grace. And when that grace had picked him up and set him forward, then Peter set about doing what each of us must do: pursuing a life—the kind of life that is described for us here. And one small measure of genuine holiness will outweigh in real worth the largest measure of worldly good.
The Christian who does not add to his or her faith is sure to lose sight of their being a forgiven person and is certain to fall into doubt about whether they have been purged from their old sins. They live like a man who has recovered from sickness, who keeps falling back again into bad health. He begins to doubt his recovery, and he begins to think of it only as a dream. Therefore, if failing to add to faith is certain to shake our assurance, to cause us to doubt and fear, then isn’t that sufficient incentive to press on? To press on?
Let us pray together:
Father, look upon us in your mercy this evening, we pray. Help us to understand the wonder of what you have done in providing for us in the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we might with humble hope and simple obedience receive all that you have granted. And some of us have never received it. We refuse to believe. We pray, Lord, that you will enable us to trust in your mercy, to believe in your Word, to rest in your Son, and to find all of our hope in heaven—not in what we do but in what Jesus Christ has accomplished on the cross. Hear our prayers, O God, and let our cry come unto you. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 2 Peter 1:4 (NIV 1984).
 2 Peter 1:1 (NIV 1984).
 See 2 Peter 1:5–7.
 Proverbs 24:31 (NIV 1984).
 D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1983), 46.
 Titus 2:14 (NIV 1984).
 A. Katherine Hankey, “Tell Me the Old, Old Story” (1866).
 Jude 1:24 (KJV).
 Hankey, “Tell Me the Old, Old, Story.”
 Ephesians 6:13 (KJV).
 Hankey, “Tell Me the Old, Old, Story.”
 Augustus Toplady, “A Debtor to Mercy Alone” (1771).
 See 1 Corinthians 3:15.
 See Matthew 26:69–74; Mark 14:66–71; Luke 22:55–60; John 18:16–18, 25–27.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.