Who am I? This is one of the most important questions a person can ask. Developing a sense of identity is perhaps the most important task of adolescence. Satan works hard to destroy a positive sense of identity in God’s children by exposing them at a young age to messages that convey that their lovability is dependent upon their performance or that their value and worth are evaluated by what they do rather than who they are. Can you list twenty positive adjectives to describe yourself? Most times when I ask a person to undertake this assignment, he says that it would be easier to give twenty negative adjectives. This is understandable because most of us hear many more negative messages about ourselves than positive messages. And when someone does complete the list, many of the adjectives are not about self or personal identity. Rather, the words are about the person's relationship to others: loving, kind, giving. However, not knowing who you are alone apart from relationships leads to relational dysfunction.
This introduction leads us to 2 Peter 1:1–14 where Peter begins his letter by describing his identity as “slave and apostle of Jesus Christ” (NLT). Peter embraced his identity as that of a slave as did Paul when he said, “You have become slaves to righteous living” (Romans 6:18) and “now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God” (v. 22). Slavery to God and the righteous living he imparts is entirely a voluntary slavery, one given in freedom, unlike the slavery to sin and the sinful nature that was inherited from fallen Adam. The slavery Peter identifies with was chosen freely and, ironically, leads to freedom from the bondage of sin. Peter embraces and rejoices in this type of slavery that is the hallmark of an apostle of Jesus Christ. An apostle is a delegate of another, a messenger or one who is sent. As one who was sent by his master, God, Peter obeys the orders of his master. The Roman centurion in Matthew 8 understood this principle, and Jesus commended him for his faith. The remarkable thing about this Roman is that he loved his servant and took the initiative on his servant’s behalf to come to Jesus to request healing. Similarly, Peter’s apostolic obedience flows from a heart that has been captivated by the love initiated by his master Jesus. He knows personally the self-sacrifice and humility of his master, and he knows all too well of Jesus’ forgiveness. Peter’s identity clearly flows from an experience of a Lord who is also his Savior.
Peter prays in verse 2 that God would give his readers “more and more grace and peace as (they) grow in (their) knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.” He continues “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself” (v 3, NLT). Like Peter, the grace and peace we have and everything we need to live a godly life comes from knowing and experiencing the love of God for ourselves. God is the giver of everything we need to live a godly life. Human virtue apart from God is hopelessly marred. It cannot be separated from the sinful tug of our fallen human nature. Every impulse to do good, whether God is acknowledged or not, comes from God.
Peter explains that God has given us “great and precious promises” (v 4) and that it is these “promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires” (v 4). The promises in verse 4 are connected to the knowledge of God himself and his son Jesus and the divine power he gives us in verses 2 and 3 above. Jesus is the promise, and he has been given all power and authority (Matt. 28:18). It is from this reality that Peter counsels us to “make every effort to respond to God’s promises” (v 5).
When I met and spent time with Beverly Jackson, I came to know her better over time. When I beheld her beauty, both inward and outward, I was drawn to her. I experienced her loving, generous heart and was captivated by her love. I chose freely to make a promise to her that I would love her for the rest of my life. As we have grown together and learned to love one another more deeply over the past thirty-one years, I have been inspired to “make every effort” to respond to her love by growing in virtue. I had faith in her promise to love me, and Peter likewise challenges us to have faith in God’s unfailing promises by growing in the virtues of moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love for everyone. We are motivated to “make every effort” to do these things by having first experienced the love of God. “Making every effort” without knowing God’s love will result in pietistic legalism or total frustration in the religious life.
Peter describes the Christian life as a growing process. “The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 8). Relationships either grow or go stagnant. The journey of growth with God will get sweeter and more satisfying as the days and years go by. If not, Peter says that we are shortsighted and blind and will forget that we have been cleansed from our old sins (v 9). This type of blind forgetfulness leads to many a divorce in human relationships and unfortunately does so with the divine as well.
Peter then admonishes us to “work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen” and to “do these things” so that we “will never fall away” (v 10). Anyone who has been in a serious relationship knows that it is hard work. Staying connected, open, and vulnerable when it seems safer to hide is hard work. But love is worth the effort. We will do whatever it takes to continue growing in intimacy in the relationship. But as one who identifies as both a slave and apostle, Peter freely chooses to obey his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Just before his death, he is compelled to admonish us to do the same. He reminds us to stand firm in the truth that we have been taught (v 12) and promises that if we do these things, we “will never fall away” (v 10) and have “a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (v 11).
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