Text: 2 Peter 1:2-11
A few weeks back we sang as the Hymn of the Day the hymn, “Salvation Unto Us Has Come.” I had us sing all ten stanzas both because it’s fun and because there is good teaching throughout the whole hymn. Tonight, I’d like to read particularly the ninth stanza. It goes: “Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone and rests in Him unceasing; and by its fruits truth faith is known, with love and hope increasing. For faith alone can justify; works serve our neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living.” (Lutheran Service Book #555) Although it’s not listed with the other passages at the bottom, it’s possible that the author, Paul Speratus, had our text tonight in mind, also. St. Peter said, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…If you practice these qualities you will never fall.” (2 Peter 1:3, 5, 10 English Standard Version)
St. Peter does not call on us to work out our salvation, as if our own good works could earn or even contribute to the forgiveness we receive through faith in Christ. Rather, having already received salvation by God’s grace through faith, Peter encourages us to bear fruit in keeping with that faith. He encourages us to seek the virtue, knowledge, self-control, and endurance that are produced in us by the Holy Spirit through the Word. In this way, we will live lives of faithfulness and love toward our neighbor and keep from being, “ineffective or unfruitful,” (v. 8) in our faith. As we have been granted all things by God’s grace, St. Peter encourages us to live faithfully in our calling.
“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises.” (vv. 2-4) These are some of St. Peter’s opening words in this, his last epistle. This letter was written by Peter shortly before he was martyred by crucifixion for the faith that is in Jesus Christ. He wrote the things in this letter to be a reminder to all Christians of the grace we have received in Christ, and so that we may return to these words after Peter’s departure. Peter starts this letter by reminding baptized Christians of what they have received in Christ: “All things that pertain to life and godliness.” (v. 3)
Although the audience for this letter was faithful Christians spread throughout the world, none of them had always been Christians. Some were raised within Judaism, some in pagan households, perhaps even in atheistic families. In this way, we have something common, because, neither have we always been Christians. Rather, we were conceived and born enemies of God and subject to the corruption of sin. But, through Baptism – in Peter’s words – we have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world;” (v. 4) and that, only by God’s grace. Rather than hold our sins against us, God the Father exercised His divine power in mercy and grace. He sent His Son into the flesh to redeem us through His own death and resurrection. The Lord has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness by causing us to die to sin with Christ and rise with Him to newness of life. By His own grace, we are made heirs of His precious and great promise of eternal life in the new creation.
“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.” (vv. 5-7) St. Peter wrote these words not as a commandment, but as encouragement from a faithful shepherd. He encourages us that, recognizing that God has already saved us from the corruption of sin and death, we live in keeping with that truth. He would have us, rather than keeping the promises of God to ourselves, live in His promises in love toward others. He would have us pursue what is good and noble, that we would learn to exercise self-control in all matters, that we would remain steadfast under trial and behave godly in the same. In all things, as we heard from the Apostle Paul on Sunday, Peter would have us conduct ourselves in love: brotherly affection toward Christians and, generally, toward all.
These things do not contribute to our salvation. Peter would spit that idea right out of his mouth. Rather, these things flow from a faith that is living and active. They do not create faith, but they exercise it. Just as we keep our bodies strong by exercising them, so faith is strengthened by being put to use. Not only would we benefit from that, but so might others. Martin Luther once said that God doesn’t need our works, but our neighbors do. Our neighbors who are not Christians would benefit greatly from our good witness. Through our kind behavior and faithful words, it may be that the Holy Spirit might call them to faith, too. Our neighbors in Christ can be strengthened by our witness, as well. Those who are young, particularly, learn from those who are old. Those of us who have been Christians a long time have a responsibility to be faithful in our witness and actions toward those who are young in the faith. When we seek to practice these virtues – self-control, and otherwise – although they do not create faith or earn us salvation, it keeps us from being ineffective and unfruitful.
“Whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” (v. 9) The Holy Spirit spoke these words through Peter because they are something we need to be reminded of. Because we are in the flesh, we remain both saint and sinner until the Resurrection. In the exercise of our lives, we have all found it easier to live as our sinful hearts desire. We would rather sleep in the darkness than be awake in light. Rather than confess our faith publicly, we would rather keep it to ourselves. Instead of investing our master’s mina and putting it to good use, we are like the servant who buries it. For this reason, we are here tonight.
Tonight is Ash Wednesday, the start of our Lenten journey with Christ to the cross. Although our salvation is accomplished, Lent is a time for us to put our Baptism into practice by daily confessing our sins, taking up our cross, and following. Tonight, we confess that we have not always been fruitful in our faith, we have not always been good witnesses nor loving toward our neighbor. We have behaved as if we have forgotten that we were cleansed from our former sins. Let us therefore return, again, and trust that the Lord has, indeed, provided all that that pertains to eternal life and pray that He would also lead us in the pursuit of godly virtue. In Jesus’ name.