“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 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. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:5-9).
When Peter says, “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins,” his words parallel Christ’s in John 15:1-6. If a man is “so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins,: he isn’t abiding in Christ, and that is why he lacks the qualities that should supplement faith. That man is like a cathedral in former-Roman Catholic Europe that looks beautiful and feels Christian on the outside, but the inside has been empty for a long time. He might even be like a branch that has just fallen off the vine; it still looks green and more than able to bear fruit, but since it has been cut off, it will not bear fruit.
What is virtue and how might we diligently pursue a godly life? Thomas Schreiner puts it this way: “Believers should live in a way that pleases God because Christ has given them everything they need for life and godliness” (1, 2 Peter, Jude, NAC, 296). God’s gift of grace through Christ is first, and that gives us what we need to have life and godliness. It’s not something that we’ll supplement because our righteous works make it happen; instead Peter’s exhortation to supplement faith with these qualities are “grounded in God’s merciful gifts” (Schreiner, 297). Also Schreiner writes, “Faith is the root of all moral virtue, and such virtue is linked with what we do with our knowledge of God” (297). Each virtue is rooted in faith, and they all go hand-in-hand.
If a Christian is abiding in Christ, he will bear fruit. That is what believers do. Moral virtue will supplement faith if the person really has faith in Christ, and it (along with the other virtues) will increase if the believer is diligently pursuing a godly life by practicing spiritual disciplines like humility, prayer, the study of God’s word, and worship. If these qualities are increasing, it also helps us to understand that sanctification has both a beginning (abiding in Christ) and it increases throughout life. In Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, he writes:
Although Paul says that his readers have been set free from sin (Rom. 6:18) and that they are “dead to sin and alive to God” (v. 11), he nonetheless recognizes that sin remains in their lives, so he tells them not to let it reign and not to yield to it (vv. 12-13). Their task, therefore as Christians is to grow more and more in sanctification, just as they previously grew in sin (748).
It’s not that we no longer sin; however, Peter is telling “those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours [i.e. the Apostles] by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:1) that if they abide in Christ, they will bear fruit that will be evidence of their increasing sanctification and their growth will glorify God far above themselves, because it begins with faith in Christ, not works.
So Peter says, “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue” (v. 5a). Virtue is a conformity to a standard of what is right or a commitment to moral excellence. Christians who have not forgotten that they were cleansed from their sins (v. 9) by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness by his bloody, loving death on the cross should conform to a higher standard of moral excellence as best they can by God’s grace. If we are being renewed in knowledge after the image of God (cf. Col. 3:10), we are laying down our lives by his grace and for his grace and glory and being committed to a standard of moral excellence. They will know we are Christians by our virtue if it is different from the world’s standard of moral goodness, and it’s only in Christ that we can live with virtue. Again, Schreiner writes that Peter “links vv. 5-7 to vv. 3-4 [with ‘For this very reason’] because Christ has given them everything they need for a godly life, and they possess magnificent promises of future perfection [i.e. sanctification]” (298). We should supplement our faith with virtue for the sake of the gospel and for others to know we are Christians, and how that makes us different.
“And virtue with knowledge . . .” (v. 5b). Believers are to also pursue knowledge with moral excellence. Above all other knowledge, the believer should pursue knowledge of God, his character, and his will by Bible study. About knowledge here in v. 5b, John Calvin writes, “Knowledge is what is necessary for acting prudently” (Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 22, 372). Knowledge is necessary for wisdom and judiciousness, but also for knowing and understanding the gospel and how to properly share it with others.
“And knowledge with self-control . . .” (v. 6a). Again, faith is the root of these qualities, and virtue goes hand-in-hand with knowledge, and now knowledge goes hand-in-hand with self-control. There is no true knowledge of grace and the character of God apart from self-control. Self-control, here as egkrateion, suggests that self-control is a virtue of a person who overcomes his desires and passions and his sensual appetites by faith supplemented with moral excellence and knowledge of God and his word. Paul mentions self-control as one of the fruits of the Spirit in Gal. 5:23. One of the important aspects of self-control is it distinguishes the true believer from the false teacher. These false teachers “secretly bring in destructive heresies” and they often “follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2:1-2). Peter’s strong words against false teachers are important, because he wants the believer to fully understand that Christians should be easily distinguished from false teachers. Their self-control over sinful desires and temptation marks an important difference between them and the false teacher. With knowledge, also pursue self-control.
“And self-control with steadfastness . . .” (v. 6b). Christians should also supplement steadfastness or perseverance with their faith. Often, the New Testament church was both threatened physically and by immorality or heresy. Rom. 5:3-4 says, “And not only this [i.e. justification by faith], but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance.” Believers have hope in suffering, because it brings about perseverance. And “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). Why is perseverance important? Without it, every other quality is diminished or overwhelmed by thoughts or philosophies or godlessness; and so those who began by following the gospel, they have now maligned the “way of the truth” (2 Pet. 2:2). Without perseverance, there is no follow-through, and without follow-through, it is difficult to be conformed to the image of Christ. Of course, being conformed to the image of Christ is accomplished by God, not the believer. The necessary understanding here is: if you have been chosen by God for salvation, then your faith must and shall persevere. Brothers, do not be tossed back and forth by different ideas or circumstances. Instead hold tightly to God’s promise that he will preserve your faith until the end, and in our steadfastness in suffering, there is great hope.
“And steadfastness with godliness . . .” (v. 6c). About godliness, Schreiner writes, “Believers have, by God’s grace, already been given everything they need ‘for life and godliness’ (v. 3). Here we see that the imperative stands on the indicative. Christ has given believers everything to be godly, and yet believers must pursue godliness” (300). Now, is there a contradiction between what shall be and what we should do? No, not really. There is a connection between what believers do (e.g. love) and what they are told they should do. 1 John 3:23-24 says:
“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”
Here we see that love is both a command and a promise. If we love one another, we abide in Christ by keeping his commandments. Also, we know that if we are abiding in Christ, we will love. Love is natural for Christians; it is what Christians do. 1 John 4:7 says, “Beloved, let us love on another for, love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” John wants the beloved to pursue love, but he also knows that love is what Christians do. Is this inconsistent? No, and here is why: Christians will love and they should pursue love just as they have been given everything they need for life and godliness and should pursue godliness, and godliness goes hand-in-hand with steadfastness, self-control, knowledge, and virtue. Godliness, like knowledge cannot be added to faith without studying God’s word, but since God has given us everything we need in order to live godly lives, he is also able to fashion us to the image of his Son. God has given us everything we need “for life and godliness” because living a godly life is the kind of life that pleases God.
“And godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (v. 7). Schreiner writes, “It is fitting, as already noted, that love should climax the chain since love is the supreme Christian virtue” (300). Brotherly affection is the kind of affection a Christian should have for fellow believers. Christian community in the New Testament church was often very loving, and the way they loved and suffered did not go unnoticed. Lastly, Christian love finishes v. 7. Without love, we can be certain there is no real faith. If the Christian supplements their faith with love, they will also have the other qualities because they all go together.