This passage in 2 Peter can be difficult, especially these words: "Brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble." These words can sound confusing to our Lutheran, grace-oriented ears. It almost sounds as if Peter is telling us to do good works in order to be saved by them. But that's not really what he's saying.
Peter is speaking about works that follow after forgiveness, not ones that earn the forgiveness of sins. Nor can the good works maintain your salvation, as if you must preserve your own faith by your own goodness. Your salvation is by grace from beginning to end. It is always God's free gift to you.
Yet if a person sins without repentance, they may fall from their calling. Faith cannot remain in those who reject repentance. Such a person resists the Holy Spirit, and may finally lose Him.
So you should act with the greatest diligence to live according to God's direction. As St. Peter says, a Christian should make his calling and election sure by practicing all Christian virtue, in all godliness, modesty, temperance, patience, and love. You should do these things so that the more you find the Spirit's power and strength working within you, the less you will doubt that God has chosen you.
You see, it is not that you must make God chose you, or make His choice more certain. His choice has always been certain, from before the beginning of the world. But He wants YOU to be certain. He wants you to see how the Spirit is working in you, so that you can recognize and not doubt that you are His child.
The calling you received in the Gospel is likewise certain and unalterable. Your Baptism, and the Gospel by which you are forgiven, are never altered. Yet you should be certain in yourself that you have not fallen into laziness and coldness. You should beware of a lack of repentance.
Therefore, look to the virtues to which St. Peter calls you. It is not so much that you must perform them at a certain level to be saved. But if you are concerned with them and strive for them, then you cannot stumble. For even when you fail, you will turn to Christ in shame to seek His forgiveness with trembling repentance. And when you do succeed, by God's grace, then you will recognize the Spirit's work in your heart, and rejoice that you are His child.
But if you go about your life without any concern for how you live, and give no thought to repentance, then how can your calling and election be certain? As you go along heedlessly, you would not even care.
On the other hand, a self-righteous Pharisee is always pleased by his works and think that they prove that he is a child of God. A Pharisee might say something like this: "I'm such a good person, I must surely be one of God's chosen!" The words of St. Peter do not apply to such people who are busy justifying themselves. For if they truly measured their lives against the demands of godliness laid out here, then they would surely feel the fear of God in their hearts. To such people, there is only one word: "Repent!"
But St. Peter speaks to the brethren in Christ who are still in faith. He counsels them as a dear shepherd to see that they remain in their faith by diligently examining their lives.
So I also counsel you. Pay attention to your lives. Keep striving for love and knowledge of the truth. Work to increase in you self-control and patience. Everyone here has room for improvement in these things. Work on them as hard as you can. Watch in your lives and notice when you fail. That is where you need improvement. If you do not notice any failures, then surely you are not diligently paying attention to these virtues as you should.
When you notice your failures, come quickly to Christ for forgiveness. His door is always open to give you His grace, although I should remind you that His door is especially open from 10:30 to 12:30 every Saturday. Your diligent striving for virtue should lead you inevitably to realize that you are guilty of much sin. Come, then, and receive His absolution. That is what it is here for. And come also to eat and drink His Body and Blood, given into death for each of your sins.
All this is what the Baptized life of a Christian is about. We know that Baptizing with water signifies that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts. This Baptism also shows that a new man should daily come forth and rise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever. As St. Paul wrote in Romans chapter 6, "We were buried with Him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."
For this is the great miracle of salvation, that you have been rescued from the corruption in the world. The sinful desires in every sinful heart including yours lead only to death and damnation. Spiritual corruption leads to eternal corruption in hell.
Yet Christ has rescued you by covering you with His divine nature. In Baptism, you put on Christ. The image of the Son of God covers you forever. Therefore, you share with Christ in everything that is in God - His righteousness, wisdom, eternal life, endless peace, blessedness, and everything good that can be named. You share His almighty power against your enemies: sin, death, and satan. Not that you can go around doing whatever miracles pop into your head. It is not that you ARE God. You share in His nature, for Christ has made Himself one with you. Therefore, God so closely dwells with you that you cannot be separated from Him.
Luther said, "Whatever someone does to you, he must do to God, for whoever wants to crush a Christian must crush God." And we know that NO ONE can crush God, as Good Friday and Easter clearly demonstrated. They killed the Son of God and put Him in a Tomb, but He only came forth, more victorious than ever. So His life, His resurrection, and His victory, are also all yours.
Ponder how great this grace is - that such lowly sinners such as you and I share in the Divine Nature of the Godhead! Spiritual scum bags are one with the Glorious Savior! You can never, in a million years, fully take in the wonders of His awesome love. Praise be to His Name.
The Holy Spirit preserve you in repentance and faith, to rejoice in the incredible blessing you have received through His innocent Sacrifice and precious Blood, and cling ever-tighter to His holy Word of grace, now and forevermore. Amen.
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