One passage with which too many Christians struggles is 2 Peter 1:10, the command to “make your calling and election sure.” Still others gravely misuse this encouraging verse as ground to cause other Christians to question the assurance of their salvation. Does this passage teach that we are to doubt our salvation until we’re “sure” that God has really “called” us?
1. The Word
The word used for “sure” in 2 Peter 1:10 is the Greek adjective bebaios (“BEB-ah-yos”) and means stable, steadfast or firm. Interestingly, Peter uses this same word again nine verses later in 2 Peter 1:19 where he reassures us that “we have something more sure [bebaios], the prophetic word,” that is, the Scriptures.
The first thing we must note is the construction of the sentence, as it determines the subject of the surety. Many misread this verse as if it were constructed in the exact opposite!
It does not say: “make sure of your calling and election”
It does say: “make your calling and election sure”
Here, the word “sure” serves as an adjective, referencing the object: the “calling and election” that preceded the adjective. The imperative is not that you are sure, but that your calling and election is (has the quality of being) steadfast/firm/sure.
Like any passage, we must examine the context–the teachings that surround and frame the passage–so that we may be utterly confident of our reading.
Verses 3-4: First, we notice that the section begins back in verses 3 and 4, where Peter recounts the blessings and promises which God “has granted” us and called us out of the world. (Notice the use of completion, that God “has,” not “might,” grant us and bless us in the way listed.)
Verses 5-7: Then, in verses 5 through 7, Peter begins a list of seven “qualities” that we are to diligently add to our faith: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. But notice that he precedes the command with a conjunction: “For this very reason…” Peter did not say, “In order to attain the blessings and promises I just mentioned.” On the contrary, the “very reason” which Peter cites is not the possibility of God’s promises and blessings, but the surety of them. Because we have been “granted” these blessings and have escaped the corruption of the world (through new life in Christ), the reality of this new life should motivate us. To focus on the list and miss the motivation lays the foundation for misinterpretation of the (oft-misused) verses that follow.
Verse 8: “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.”
Here Peter contrasts life with and without the qualities he listed. With them, we are effective and fruitful “in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Without them, we are not. But here we must note that Peter did not say, “without these qualities you probably aren’t a Christian.” To avoid implying condemnation beyond the text, we must note that lacking these qualities causes the immature, lazy or ignorant Christian to be “ineffective and unfruitful”–not lost for eternity, as Peter makes clear in the next verse.
Verse 9: “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”
Here, in the very verse preceding the one at controversy, Peter makes absolutely clear the condition of a Christian lacking the qualities listed in verses 5-7. When attempting to tackle verse 10, some point to the list and say, “See, these are the qualities we should have if we are to be sure of our salvation, so if we don’t have them then it’s questionable if we’re saved.” But Peter, here in verse 9, completely rescues us from such misreading and the unnecessary doubt it brings. Instead of saying “whoever lacks these qualities” isn’t a Christian, Peter says that a Christian who “lacks these qualities” is simply “blind” and has “forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” (Only Christians are cleansed of their sins.) So by use of a reference specific to those who are both saved and lacking in the “qualities,” Peter confirms that one lacking these qualities is indeed saved and yet “blind” to the realities of it.
Verse 10: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”
Here we come to the key verses, with foregoing doctrine having been laid. Whenever we see the transition “therefore” we have to know what it’s there for. Here Peter again precedes his command by first harkening us back to (“Therefore…”, “On account of…”) the points he has labored to make clear:
- God has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness; we have escaped corruption (vvs. 3-4), so we must “supplement” our faith with certain qualities (vvs. 5-7)
- If we have these we are effective and fruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (v. 8)
- If we don’t have these we are “cleansed” from our sins (saved) but blind to it (v. 9)
With this context of foundation and the construction of verse 10, it’s completely nonsensical to read verse 10 as, “Therefore [i.e., on account of God’s blessings and your salvation], brothers, make every effort to make sure [i.e., convince yourself] you’re saved.”
Instead, with the foundation of vvs. 3-9, and having been addressed as “brothers,” we read verse 10 in context as:
“Therefore [i.e., on account of God’s blessings and your salvation], brothers [in Christ], be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure [steadfast, stable, firm], for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”
The Lord calls us to “make every effort” to put into practice qualities by which our calling and election in God–which we already have–is further made steadfast, firm, and trustworthy.
By this right and comprehensive understanding we are freed from the “Are you sure you’re saved?” misreading of this important passage.
Thank you so much for sharing this. It is a great exposition of this verse and very helpful. I would equate surety (bebaios) with training our muscles. We can surely still walk and stand if we do not train our muscles (much like we are never more or less saved than our surrender to the Gospel) but training our muscles brings about precision, understanding, trust, and reliance upon their strength.