Virtue and Assurance Part 2
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/08/2003
"Virtue and Assurance"
2 Peter 1:8-11
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Tonight we have the opportunity and the great privilege of returning to 2 Peter chapter 1 verses 5 through 11, our study of
the assurance of salvation. This being part 8, if you will, in that wonderful series. And as we have been looking at 2 Peter
chapter 1 verses 5 through 11 we've been learning through this long study that God wants His beloved children to enjoy the
assurance of their salvation. He wants them to enjoy full assurance. In fact, Peter writes this marvelous section in order that
believers may experience the assurance that God desires for them, given the fact that the enemy, the devil, is the accuser of
the brethren and always wants to hit us with blows of doubt to make us doubt our salvation, God on the other hand wants to
affirm our spiritual condition and our assurance. Assurance, in fact, is a vital theme in this brief letter. And let me just remind
you of how it kind of fits in to the whole picture.
The major theme of 2 Peter is false teachers. That theme is carried primarily in the second chapter. The second chapter
deals specifically with the false teachers. But that key section, chapter 2, with regard to false teachers, is surrounded by
other teaching directed at the issue of successfully defeating the attack of false teachers. To fight off the deluding deceptions
the believer must know, knowledge is the key to dealing with false teachers. They cannot deceive you if you know the truth,
the truth about doctrine, the truth about your spiritual condition. Where there is knowledge there can be no deception. So he
tells us that, first of all, we must know our sanctification. That he deals with in chapter 1 verses 12 through 21.
Then in chapter 3 he says you must know your sanctification. And we'll get to that. And here in our text, chapter 1 verses 1
through 11, you must know your salvation. If you know your Scripture and you know your sanctification and you know your
salvation, you have set your defense against the deception of false teachers.
Now we're dealing with this whole matter of knowing your salvation. It began really in verse 1 and runs all the way down to
verse 11. In verse 1 we looked at the source of our salvation...in verse 2 the substance of our salvation...in verses 3 and 4
the sufficiency of our salvation...and now in verses 5 through 11 the certainty of our salvation. We must know our salvation if
we're going to be dealing with false teachers effectively and not succumb to their deception.
So we have been examining the great matters of revelation that regard our salvation, and particularly the certainty of it. As
we came to verse 5 I noted for you the effort prescribed. There is an effort involved in being certain about your salvation.
Notice verse 5, "Now for this very reason applying all diligence...all diligence in your faith supply..." and we'll stop right
If you're going to be certain of your salvation it involves a diligent pursuit...it involves an effort. The fullness of assurance is
the product of zealous effort to tap the full supply of God's gracious provision. Then secondly we noted it not only involves
the effort prescribed but the virtues pursued. You go from attitude there to action. And in the second part of verse 5 and
running through verse 7 we noted some virtues that are pursued. He says in verse 5, you must supply moral excellence and
in your moral excellence knowledge, and in your knowledge self-control, and in your self-control perseverance, and in your
perseverance godliness, and in your godliness brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness love. These are the pursuit,
the moral pursuit of the one who would experience assurance. You must add to your faith moral virtue. You must add to
your moral virtue practical wisdom. You must add to your practical wisdom internal self-restraint. You must add to that
internal self- restraint perseverance through trials. To that you add a God- conscious reverence. To that you add brotherly
friendship, brotherly kindness. And to that you add the all pervasive love toward God and everybody else. Where you
pursue those virtues you will experience assurance.
So, assurance involves an effort prescribed, applying all diligence, and virtues pursued. Then in point three, down in verses 8
and 9 which we come to tonight, there are two options presented. In order to enjoy assurance I must consider the options
presented, verses 8 and 9. And here you have two options and you can go either way, accepting or rejecting the pursuit of
these virtues the effort that is prescribed. Peter makes the results of these two options very very clear.
First of all, let's look at the positive option. If I'm going to experience assurance in my life I take a positive option, verse 8.
"If these qualities are yours and are increasing..." that's the first option, that you are pursuing these options. If you want to
enjoy assurance in all of its richness, here is the means...by pursuing these qualities. If you do that and you find them
increasing your life, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now you're
going to have to follow me closely because this is a rather intricate argument that Peter gives us. A little phrase "if these
qualities are yours," these seven virtues that he has mentioned, if they belong to you, and by the way the Greek verb denotes
property which someone really owns. The Greek verb denotes an abiding possession. The expression is very strong. If you
really have these virtues and they are on the increase, the verb there is pleonazo which means to have more than enough, to
have more than necessary, to have too much. If you see these virtues in your life, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control,
perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love, if you see those virtues in your life and you see them on the increase,
he says, again back to verse 8, they render you, that is they make you neither useless nor unfruitful.
Let me just speak about those two terms. Useless means literally out of work, inactive, idle. It is used eight times in the New
Testament. It always means indolent, unserviceable, inoperative, inactive, such as in Titus 1:12, that interesting phrase, "Idle
bellies." By the way, in James 2:20 to 22 it's translated dead...dead. If you pursue these virtues you won't be inoperative,
inactive, and useless. You won't be in one sense dead in terms of your effectiveness. And then he adds "nor unfruitful." That
means basically the same thing, unproductive. That is used seven times in the New Testament and usually it is used of trees.
It is used of unregenerate apostates in Jude 12 who are like trees without fruit. It is used in Ephesians 5:11 of unfruitful
works of darkness. It is used in Matthew 13:22 of unfruitful superficial believers. It is used in 2 Thessalonians 3:14 even of a
true believer who is unfruitful. So he is saying when your life does not manifest these things, these virtues, you are useless and
unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if they are in you and they're on the increase, you are not
useless and you are not unfruitful. Your life is increasingly fruitful. Where they are not there you are indistinguishable from an
apostate, you are indistinguishable from an evildoer, you are indistinguishable from a superficial believer.
Now look at the phrase at the end of verse 8 because it's important. He says you neither are useless nor unfruitful in the true
knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. That phrase "in the true knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," shows us that
he is referring here to true Christians. He is saying you possess the true knowledge as opposed to a false knowledge. You
are a real believer. Now a real believer has the capacity to produce these virtues. They are inherent within the new nature
because God says to the believer through Christ you are blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies, Ephesians 1:4.
You have all things that pertain to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him, 2 Peter 1:3. So the germ, the seed,
the potential for all these virtues is there in the true believer. So Peter is saying a true and genuine believing Christian who
sees these things on the increase in his life is not useless, is not unproductive, but enjoys fruit and usefulness in his life.
Now that is option number one. Pursuing these virtues, pursuing them with all diligence, according to the effort prescribed,
and seeing in your life the increase of these things and the consequent usefulness and fruitfulness, that's option number one.
Now look at verse 9 for option number two. "He who lacks these qualities..." what qualities? These same seven virtues. If
he looks at his life and he doesn't see moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness
and love, he doesn't see it, doesn't see it increasing in his life, if he's not pursuing those things it says he is blind and
short-sighted. By the way, those are really synonyms, just like useless and unfruitful are synonyms. He is saying literally he is
blind, being short-sighted. This is another way he can't see far enough to discern spiritual condition.
If a person, now follow this thought, if a person pursues these virtues, he will be useful and fruitful. If he is useful and fruitful
he will be able to identify his spiritual condition, right? Because he can see the fruit of God's work in his life. He will know his
If, on the other hand, these virtues are not on the increase, a person is blind and short-sighted and cannot see his true
spiritual condition. So if you want to enjoy assurance, you take option number one.
Now follow again in verse 9, "The one who lacks these virtues and qualities is blind, being short-sighted...now watch this
thought...having forgotten his purification from his former sins." What does that mean? Well the word "purification" is
katharismos from which we get catharsis which means a cleansing. He's forgotten that he's been cleansed. What does that
mean? The salvation event. He's forgotten that he was saved from his former sins, his old sinful life. Peter is saying here is a
person who has been saved who has gone through a salvation event in which he was purified from his old sinful life but he
has forgotten it, he can't any longer remember it because he is not seeing in his life the increase of these virtues.
Let me put it to you simply. Where you have the increase of moral virtue, you have the evidence of salvation. Get that?
Where you have the absence of the increase of moral virtue, you have the lack of assurance of salvation. One's assurance of
salvation is directly related to what's going on in his life. Those people who do not see the virtues on the increase in their life
will not remember that they have been purged. The phrase "having forgotten" literally is to receive forgetfulness or to incur
And so summing it up, the failure to diligently pursue spiritual virtues produces spiritual amnesia. The failure to pursue moral
excellence in one's life, the failure to pursue these seven virtues will dim one's vision of his own spiritual condition. And there
will be no memory of salvation at some point. And one will not know whether he's really saved. Oh he may remember some
external activity that he might have gone through at the moment that he was saved, but he will not have the confidence of
salvation. The commentator Bockum(?) writing in The Word Biblical Commentary says this, "The knowledge of Jesus Christ
recorded at conversion came as illumination to those who were blind in their pagan ignorance. But Christians who do not
carry through the moral implications of this knowledge have effectively become blind to it again," end quote. Now mark this,
that kind of forgetfulness leads to repeating the old sins.
So there you have two options...two options. A believer who has these qualities and virtues increasing will enjoy assurance
because he'll see the fruit and the usefulness in his own life. And he'll see that he's in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus
Christ. On the other hand, a believer who does not pursue these virtues and lacks these qualities increasing will forfeit
assurance. So the effort prescribed, the diligent pursuit, the virtues pursued, he lays out the very essence of the virtues that
must be increasing in our life and the options presented.
Finally, is the benefit promised. In order to pull his argument together and to make it compelling, Peter develops the benefits
in verses 10 and 11. This is really where the whole argument comes to its great climax. Notice verse 10, "Therefore,
brother," now here the word "therefore" ties everything up. On the basis of everything I have said, "Therefore, brethren, be
all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you," stop at that point.
Obviously because of what he has said you should be compelled to make your calling certain. Because of the tragedy of
option number two, you want to avoid it. So verse 10 calls for you to move toward option number one. And verse 10
sounds an awful lot like verse 5...pursue this, apply all diligence. In fact it's almost an identical phrase. Be all the more
diligent. Make an even greater effort...uses the same word as in verse 5. The word carries urgency and it carries eagerness.
To do what? To make certain. One of the middle voice verbs...to make certain for yourself, to make certain for yourself, to
make firm, secure, sure, to certify, to attest, to confirm, to affirm. The word is used in a legal guarantee. There's nothing
worse, frankly, than to fear you're not saved. Grief and despair result from that kind of uncertainty...doubt and fear. So
Peter says be spiritually diligent to make sure for yourself...that's a very important point, middle voice verb...for yourself
about His calling and choosing you. Calling and choosing again are synonyms. The calling here is not merely an invitation but
a sovereign command coupled with a sovereign selection in eternity past. Make sure for yourselves that God has called you
and chosen you to salvation.
Now obviously you're not making sure to God, God knows, right? God doesn't have any doubt about it. God knows
because He chose you. But you need to make sure for yourselves. He knows the elect. He knows whom He has chosen.
He knows whom He has called. But do you have that assurance? Do you have that confidence? Be diligent to make certain
that you do.
How do you do that? Follow along, verse 10, "For as long as you practice these things." In other words, as long as you
pursue these moral virtues, as long as you diligently pursue these increasing virtues, as long as you pursue a holy life,
reducing it down to the simplest terms, as long as you pursue spiritual growth, you will guarantee by demonstration that you
were called and you were chosen. I'll tell you, that is a wonderful wonderful confidence to have.
Notice the word "practice" there. As long as you practice these things...present active participle, the pattern of daily
conduct. As long as the pattern of your daily conduct is to pursue moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance,
godliness, brotherly kindness and love, as long as that is your daily pursuit, he says...look at the end of verse 10..."You will
never stumble." You will never stagger, stumble, fall in to doubt, despair, depression, grief, fear about your spiritual
condition. You'll never stumble...you'll always have confidence, you'll always have assurance. Why? Because your calling
and election will be sure in your mind. Why? Because you're pursuing these virtues, you see them on the increase, you know
God is producing them in your life and because you can see it and it's visible and it's evidence, you know your spiritual
condition, you know you've been saved, you know you've been called by God, you know you've been elected before the
foundation of the world. And in the confident knowledge of that you enjoy the fullness of assurance.
My, that is such a rich thrilling blessing. Beloved, what Peter is saying and what I'm saying to you is that assurance is directly
tied to how you live your life. Everybody would like to be sure about their salvation, nobody wants to live their life in doubt.
And yet I would guess that many, if not most, Christians do live in doubt. Some people say, "Well, all you have to do to be
assured is to go way back to some point in time when you signed on the dotted line, that's all the assurance you ever need,"
that's not what the Scripture says. If you want to make your calling and election sure, you're going to make it sure by virtues
that are visible in your life, produced by the Spirit of God as you pursue those virtues. And as you pursue those things and
you see that you are useful to God and fruitful and these are increasing in your life, you'll never stumble in to doubt, despair,
fear, and questioning.
In verse 11 he says it as directly as it could be said, "For in this way the entrance in to the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you." This verse needs careful thought. In verse 11 he says, first of all, for
in this way...what way? By diligent pursuit of these virtues and the blessing they bring, the blessing of assurance and the
blessing of perseverance, as you do this, as you pursue this diligently, he says, now notice it again, the entrance in to the
eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. What's he talking about?
What's he saying here? He's saying in the future when you enter in to the eternal Kingdom, you will receive an abundant
reward. That is to me the simplest and most direct understanding of this statement. Here is another feature of his promise. If
you pursue virtue in your life, you'll not only enjoy assurance here but you'll enjoy reward in the life to come. The entrance in
to the eternal Kingdom looks at our hope in the future. Now we have already entered the Kingdom at salvation, we passed
from death unto life from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son, we are now living in the present
form of the Kingdom, we are under the rule of Christ. And we are in the Kingdom in that sense. Christ is King and He rules
over His people. But we are still looking for the future fulfillment, the eternal Kingdom...the eternal Kingdom is associated
with rewards. This part of the Kingdom in which we live now is associated with salvation. We have entered into the
Kingdom by way of salvation. We receive blessing upon blessing upon blessing. The eternal feature of the Kingdom, that
which comes in to full fruition in the future, is the blessing of eternal reward. It is beyond time. It is beyond space. It is in the
presence of the Lord Jesus Christ who is our Savior. And at that time there will be an abundant supply to us because we
have diligently and faithfully pursued these virtues.
And that, by the way, beloved, is the goal of our pilgrimage. Some people would lead us to believe that you can come to
Jesus Christ and believe in Him at a moment of time and then live any way you want. Some people might even say it's nice if
you decide to pursue moral virtue...but if you don't you'll still get into the Kingdom. That's true if you're truly a Christian and
you opt out for option number two and you do not diligently pursue moral virtue, you will live in doubt and you will live in
depression and you will live in fear and you will live in despair and you will worry about your spiritual condition and you will
wonder if you're really saved because you're not seeing the increase of those moral virtues. And beyond that, while in the
future, you will enter into the Kingdom, you will find that you are not going to receive an abundant supply of reward in that
day. You will receive praise from God but it will not be to the degree that it might have been if you had pursued virtuous
things. It seems so basic that we live our Christian lives in the light of an eternal reward, that we are endeavoring to lay up
treasure in heaven, that we are pursuing the virtuous things of gold, silver and precious stones and not the lesser things of
wood, hay and stubble. For those who have diligently, faithfully pursued holiness, their reward will be abundantly supplied.
Now I agree that every one of God's children when they go to heaven will receive an abundant supply. But I think Peter
here is trying to say there is a magnanimous sense of reward for those who have pursued virtue diligently. And while I
believe all Christians bear some fruit, it is apparent that there is an option that some Christians choose and that is to make a
minor effort at spiritual virtue while some make a major effort at it. Scripture does say that God gives richly to all the saved.
Scripture does say that He gives them all things richly to enjoy. Scripture does say that all believers are forgiven according to
the riches of His grace which has been lavished on us. Scripture does say that God intends in the future ages to come to
show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward all the saved. Scripture does say that according to His mercy He
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