Sanctification: The Path of Joyful Assurance
Topic: Sanctification Passage: 2 Peter 1:8–11
We have been looking at this text for a few weeks now and have used it as a sort of foundational text on the truth of sanctification. The biblical teaching on progressively becoming more like Christ. First two messages from this text…
First, We unpacked what sanctification is - the dynamic of it: what does God do, what do we do? It’s not passively letting go and letting God… Rather it is a convergence of God’s massive grace and great effort. Not a zero sum game. God does 100%, we do 100%, and our work is dependent on his.
Second, we saw that sanctification is growing in godly qualities (not exhaustive in a strict sense, but exhaustive in the sense of where it begins and ends - faith → love).
So my hope for this final look at this passage is that you not only gain an understanding of what sanctification is, or what it would look like to be sanctified, but also that you would have the inspired determination, the resolution to pursue it with all of God’s strength that powerfully works within you. So what we have in this passage is 1) a promise to those on the way of sanctification, 2) a warning to those who are not, 3) a command to all, 4) and the outcome of walking in this way. A Promise. A Warning. A Command. An Outcome.
First, A Promise: The Path to Useful, Fruitful Living
Notice in verse 8, that the promise for those on the path of sanctification is a useful and fruitful life:
For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ
Every genuine Christian wants to bear fruit. They want to be useful to the Lord. Well, this is the path to usefulness and bearing fruit. If these qualities are yours and increasing. This is the language of progressive, ongoing sanctification - growing in the qualities laid out by Peter. This is the way to be effective and fruitful. I think what we need to do first is understand what Peter means by “the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The promise is that the path of sanctification keeps us from being ineffective and unfruitful “in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”. What is this knowledge? It is not mere notions of Jesus. A passive, passionless ability to recount the basic gospel message. It almost certainly refers to a saving knowledge of Christ. The Greek word (epignosis) means more than just a notional understanding, but a true, correct, deep knowledge, a knowledge that transforms. So the NASB translates it “true knowledge”, to indicate this is a real, experiential knowledge of Christ. Peter uses this same phrase in his greeting and it is clear that this is a saving knowledge, a knowledge that connects us to Chris in a saving way:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
For Peter a saving knowledge of Christ was the root of a useful and fruit-bearing life. In other words, a saving knowledge of Christ will lead to being useful for Christ. A saving knowledge of Christ will lead to bearing fruit for Christ. How could it be otherwise? To know Christ in this way is to be vitally connected to Christ, the Author of life. And how could someone be vitally connected to Christ and not bear fruit?
Now it’s interesting that Peter puts it in the negative and he uses two words here (ineffective and unfruitful) that are similar but there are some significant differences. Let’s take a look at them.
To possess these qualities of faith and virtue and brotherly affection and love keeps you from being ineffective in the knowledge of Christ. Ineffective. It’s an interesting word that is used in two contexts in the NT and they both help us to understand what this means. The first context it’s used in is more a secularized way. And when used this way, it is often translated “idle or lazy”. Those who sit around and don't do anything. For instance, Jesus, in the parable of the workers sent into the vineyard, speaks of men standing idle in the marketplace. They are idle or not doing anything.
In Titus, Paul quotes a Cretan prophet who said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons”. There it is: lazy. Ineffective is being idle like the men standing around in the marketplace, doing nothing. It’s like being lazy like the Cretans are described.
But then James uses it to describe a certain kind of faith that has no works. You know James 2. Faith and works. One man says he has faith without works, and the other man says he will show you his faith by his works. In James 2:20, James boils it down and says,
Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
There it is again: useless. So to be ineffective in the knowledge of Christ is to be lazy, idle, and useless. It is to be a Christian in name only. But to possess these qualities and be growing in them will keep you from being ineffective, useless, lazy, idle, but rather busy, effective, and useful. To know Christ is to be useful for Christ and be busy for Christ. JI Packer in his book “Knowing God” said, “Those who know God [Christ], have great energy for God.” Or we could say, those who know Christ, are useful, effective, busy for Christ.
The second word is unfruitful. To possess these qualities and be growing keeps you from being unfruitful. Unfruitful means to be barren or not yielding what ought to be produced. The picture is of a tree that doesn’t produce any fruit and is about to be cut down and thrown into the fire. Or a field that is barren, not bearing fruit. But, again the promise for the Christian is that we will bear fruit, that we will be fruitful. The one who has these qualities (faith, self-control, steadfastness, love, and so forth) will NOT be barren and unfruitful. This is what every true Christian wants! To bear fruit! And again how could a Chrstian not bear fruit? The true Christian is one who is connected to Christ, the true Vine. To be a branch connected to Christ, the life-giving Vine is to be a fruitful branch.
I love that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are conspiring together to make us fruitful! We know well that great “fruit of the Spirit” passage in Galatians 5. The Spirit produces fruit in us (love, joy…). John 15 makes it clear the Father and the Son are also at work to make us fruitful. Listen to a sampling of what Jesus says in John 15:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2)
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches, whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples (Jn. 15:8)
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. (John 15:16)
What do you hear? Fruit. Much fruit. Lasting fruit. It comes from being connected to the vine, abiding in the vine. Christ gives us all the strength and nourishment we need, we work out what he works in (we work out the qualities that he works in us), and grow which leads to bearing much fruit. The true Chrsitian is one who abides in the vine and produces fruit.
So the promise is that for those who are on the path of growing in sanctification, they will NOT be useless, idle, unfruitful, barren. Rather they will be useful to the Master, bearing much fruit for his glory. That is an awesome promise! But, there is a warning here for the one who is not growing, who lacks the qualities of faith and love and so forth.
What happens if you’re not growing? Look at verse 9,
For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
So nearsighted that he is blind. Peter is using compounding words to get across the point that this person can’t see. It's a metaphor that speaks of an inability to see. A person who lacks these qualities is blind. Blind to what? Blind to his salvation: “Having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” Think about what this is saying. The man or woman who is not growing lives in this dim fog, or this blindness, this inability to see and experience the joy of his salvation. It is to live with a darkened confusion and lack of assurance of salvation. Listen to the way the bible speaks of our salvation:
Psalm 32:1-2 says, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”
Galatians 6:14 - “far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
1 Peter 1:3-6 - “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice…”
Such explosive, lively, joy-filled language. The person who is not growing in sanctification, who is not growing in faith and brotherly love and knowledge and so forth does not talk that way. They’re blind to that reality. They have lost sight of that glorious reality. The gospel is no longer the greatest good news in the world, it’s just news, and maybe even old news.
The person who is not growing lives with this uncertainty of whether or not he is even saved. Or at least doesn’t have the absolute confidence - and attendant joy and life that he is saved. This doesn’t happen because you sin once…it happens over time of neglecting your salvation. He has forgotten the glorious truth that his sins are forgiven. He’s forgotten that they have been removed as far as the east is from the west, never to be counted against him, that the bar of justice has been satisfied in the courtroom of heaven, that he’s reconciled, a beloved child of God, an heir of God and co-heir with Christ.
Though I think this is speaking of the experience a Christian can have, it is similar to the experience of a non-Christian. The non-Christian is blind to the glory of Christ, even though he may be able to expound the basic gospel message of John 3:16. They don’t love it. It gives them no joy.
Brothers and sisters, this is a serious thing. And if you find yourself here. If you think, “he might be describing me…”, then you have to take the command that Peter issues seriously.
Because the promise and warning begs the question for all of us, “How then should we live?” There’s the promise for those who have and are growing in the virtues and the warning for those who are not. How should we respond? How should we live? Some think, “O, I just let go and let God do what he wants in me.” Or, “I just need to submit to God.” Or, “I just need to look to Christ.” Well, we do need to submit to God. We do need to look to Christ. But that’s not it. Thankfully, we aren’t left wondering. Peter (the Holy Spirit) tell us. We are issued a strong command. This is not a suggestion. It is a command.
A Command: Diligently confirm your salvation
Verse 10 begins with “therefore”, signaling to us that what comes next is predicated on what came before. Here’s what it says,
Therefore brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities, you will never fall. (v. 10)
Because of the great promise for those on the road of sanctification, and the serious warning for those not, “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election.” Calling and election. I wish I had a lot more time to unpack this, but let me take just a moment. Calling - This is talking about the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit through the hearing of the gospel where we are granted the gift of faith and are saved. Election: God choosing us before the foundation of the world to be his children. This is talking about our salvation. This is speaking of the saving work of God to redeem us.
So be all the more diligent to confirm your salvation. Now notice, it says confirm, not cause. We don’t pursue growth in order to cause our salvation, but to confirm it. Now, what is fascinating is that this phrase “be all the more diligent…” is identical (in the Greek) to the phrase translated “make every effort” in verse 5. There it says “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge…” and so forth. Here it says “be all the more diligent” or “make every effort” to confirm your calling and election. How do we confirm our calling and election?
By growing. Sanctification. By growing in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, love. Starting with faith! → Do you have a living faith? The Puritans had a saying that went like this, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” This is the same thing that James says. Saving faith could never be described as dead faith. It is a living faith that works. So the command is to not sit idly by, but be zealous to grow and be more like Christ.
What’s the outcome? We hear the promise. We hear warning. We hear the command based on the promise and warning. What’s the outcome?
An Outcome: Rich and Joyful Assurance (v. 11)
For in this way, there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (v. 11)
Do you hear what this is saying? “Entrance into the eternal kingdom” → In one sense we have entered now. This is speaking of something in the future. Entering into the eternal Kingdom, the eternal realm. The road of sanctification is the road on which we experience the happy and rich assurance of our future reward in heaven. And this is the path that prepares us for heaven. JC Ryle quote.
In this way… in what way? The way of holy living. There will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The way of sanctification is the best way to live happily and die comfortably. Do you want to live happily? This is the way! Do you want to die comfortably, breathing your final breaths resting assured and even rejoicing that you will soon see your Savior face to face? This is the way!
John Owen, near death - William Payne, a friend who was overseeing the printing of his latest book, The Glory of Christ, paid him a visit. Payne told Owen his book would soon be published. Owen responded: “I am glad to hear it; but O brother Payne! The long wished-for day is come at last, in which I shall see the glory in another manner than I have ever done, or was capable of doing in the world.”
John Knox - "Come, Lord Jesus, sweet Jesus! into your hands I commend my spirit. I have tasted of the heavenly joys where presently I shall be! Now, for the last time I commit soul, body, and spirit into his hands.” He sighed deeply and said, “Now it is come!"
These were men who lived in this way. And because they did, they lived happily. And when the time came, they died comfortably and joyfully. So… look to Christ! His finished, atoning work. All the blessings that come through him. The riches of his grace and kindness toward us! Look to Him. Believe in Him. Meditate on the promises that belong to us through Christ. Stand on them! And apply all diligence to confirm your calling and election. Furnish your faith with virtue, knowledge, etc. This is the path to fruitfulness and usefulness. This is the path of unspeakable joy. This is the path of assurance of salvation. This is the path that prepares you to enter the eternal Kingdom of Christ.