Dazed and Confused: Does 2 Peter 1:1-12 Teach Pietism? (Transcript)

Listen to Episode

Jimmy Buehler: On the podcast today, we seek to answer one of your questions about 2 Peter 1 and how this chapter is not teaching what we call pietism. We will also be discussing the difference between piety and pietism. We look at the saint-sinner realities of the Christian life. So we exegete the first 12 verses of this passage in our regular podcasts and in our members’ podcasts.

We look at the rest of the chapter and discuss how we preach that in a way that helps bolster people’s assurance and doesn’t rip it out from underneath their feet. We hope this conversation is helpful for you. Stay tuned.

Jon Moffitt: Dazed and Confused typically is a segment we do when someone reads a passage and they walk away more confused or dazed than they were before they read it – and that’s one of these.

Today we’re going to be covering 1 Peter 1:1-12. This question came in from Mel Lockhart. Thank you, Mel. The question is, “How does Peter’s instructions in 2 Peter differ from pietism?” While it’s obvious that Peter is not a pietist in this section, it doesn’t mean he’s not a pietist. We all struggle with pietism.

For the sake of clarification, who wants to give us a 15-second explanation of what pietism is?

Jimmy Buehler: I’d be glad to do that, Jon. Just to be clear, piety is good. The sanctification in the Christian life and the pursuit of holiness are good things. Pietism is more of a microscopic, intense focus on the interior of the Christian life, where the vast majority of your Christian life is spent; this is perhaps morbid introspection in trying to discern your fruit. What we would say is pietism is actually crippling to the fruitfulness of the Christian life because you are spending most of your days trying to find the most microscopic sin within your own life. So piety is good but pietism is not so good.

Jon Moffitt: If you would like a more fertile or a fuller explanation of that, you can go to our website. We have a small primer there which I think is around $3 called A Primer on Pietism, which is one of the first primers we ever wrote. Basically what we’re saying is pietism is you trying to earn and maintain favor with God, and that your actions and your obedience are the way in which you do that. So how is it that Peter is not doing this in 2 Peter?

Justin Perdue: It begins with the greeting, which is a pretty standard greeting from the apostle Peter where he is greeting saints and reminding them of the faith that they have that is equal to the standing of the faith of the apostles, and that all of this is by the righteousness of our God and savior, Jesus Christ.

Then he greets the saints with grace and peace. We begin there, but in verses 3-4, Peter grounds this whole thing in the power of God and in the promises that God has made to us. So this is where he begins; he begins with the indicatives or the realities of who we are in Christ as saints, and again, the power and the working of God in us.

Then he’s going to go on to exhort these Christians to pursue godliness. A brief interjection: we should never assume that exhortations necessarily mean something threatening like, “do this or else.” That’s not how expectations work underneath the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter is saying that you’re in Jesus, and it’s all about God’s power and His promises made to you. Now go and pursue godliness and brotherly affection: love one another, and do these good things so that you’ll be good for your neighbor as God works in you. Then at the end of this section, and we’ll get into this more later, it’s very interesting that Peter in verse 9 will talk about how people who lack these qualities are near-sighted, they’re blind, and they have forgotten the fact that they have been cleansed from sin.

So it seems that a huge problem here is that people have actually forgotten the gospel and have forgotten what Jesus Christ has done for them. So a 30,000-foot summary would be God’s power is at work in you; God has made promises to you in the Lord Jesus Christ; this is who you are in Him. Pursue godliness and brotherly affection so that you will be fruitful and helpful to your neighbor. Remember the gospel, in other words. We’re going to unpack all of these things today.

Jimmy Buehler: Jon is going to take us to verses 3-4. Before he does, a prudent point to make is that one of the fundamental issues that you see in the New Testament epistles is the writers, the apostles, are consistently saying what you just said, Justin, that one of the fundamental issues is a forgetting of the gospel or a forgetting of the indicative realities of the gospel of Jesus Christ: who you are, and what God has done for you in Christ. When we forget the gospel, a whole host of problems comes forth. That is why so many of the epistles begin with the apostles reminding the churches that they are writing to of the glorious realities of what God has done for His people in Christ.

Then they get into these exhortations, a lot of times in the latter half, and specifically with 2 Peter. One of the greatest places that we can ground 2 Peter on is actually back in 1 Peter 1 where Peter reminds the people that he is writing to have these wonderful promises that God has made to them in Christ.

Keeping in mind that these are inspired words by the Holy Spirit, we read the entire text as a whole. It’s good to remember that not all exhortations are threatening. Certainly there are some exhortations that are threatening, but we can’t always read the text that way. All of us, as fathers, exhort our children, but a lot of times we don’t exhort them in threatening ways. We want to keep that in mind.

Jon Moffitt: These instructions are not alienated from your identity and your union with Christ.

What Peter does here, before he even gets into these instructions, is that he guarantees your union – union meaning that you are united with Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit. That the way in which you are secured is not based upon faith that you drummed up. It’s also not based upon your faithfulness. Your faith has been gifted to you, which united you with Christ, you were baptized into Christ, and you died in Christ. What he does here is he grounds his instructions in the union of Christ.

He starts in verse 3 where he says this, “His divine power,” meaning Christ, “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,” so if you miss that, you miss everything else that follows. It is God’s power that has given us everything that we need to live this life and to produce godliness. How do we know what that looks like? Where does that come from? He says, the power “through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” So the knowledge of Jesus Christ is what is giving us the power to live this life and godliness.

The next verse is where you will hear something that Theocast says all the time: “by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may be partakers of the divine nature.” What is he pointing to? He’s not pointing to obedience. He’s not pointing to faithfulness. He’s not pointing to actions. He says, “the promises”.  What promises are you talking about? The promises of God who says, “I will redeem the people through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He’s talking about new covenant realities; the covenant of grace; the promise that God saves sinners by grace alone. He says, “so that through them you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” So our escape from this world is always through the promises of Christ, never through your obedience. Peter gives one of the most glorious gospel presentations before he gets into instruction. So that’s the foundation. He starts with the indicative. He says this is the truth by which what he is about to say has to rest upon.

Justin Perdue: He begins with the promises of God, God’s faithfulness to us, and the promises of God specifically realized and accomplished for us through Jesus.

Then he moves into verses 5-7 in which he’s going to exhort his readers. He’s going to say that for this very reason – because of God’s power that’s at work in you, because of God’s faithfulness to you and the promises He has made to you, and because of who you are in Jesus, vitally united to Christ by faith and through the work of the Holy Spirit – because of all of this, and for this 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.”

He’s saying all of these things. This is a constant refrain of the apostles; live life this way in the community of the saints and to concern yourself with these things: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, and love. This is nothing new that Peter is exhorting his readers to.

As I’m reading Peter’s flow of thought here, as he’s grounding all of these exhortations in these glorious truths of the gospel and what Christ has done for us and God’s faithfulness to us, my takeaway is no kidding. What else would I want to do as a redeemed sinner? Why in the world would I ever consider what God has done for me, and His faithfulness to me, and not want to pursue loving my brothers and sisters, or to pursue steadfastness or godliness? “I just want to keep running in the direction of sin and harming my neighbor,” said no one ever.

We’re going to struggle because we’re still sinners. We are sinner-saints so at times, we’re not going to live the way we want, and we’re not going to think the way that we want. But in our inner man, we will delight in the Law of God and we will see that these expectations from the apostle Peter are good things.

My takeaway is I’m with you. In light of Christ and God’s faithfulness to us, let’s pursue this. That’s the posture that I would want to have as a preacher even, as I’m going to be giving these exhortations to my own congregation. Saints, let’s consider the love and faithfulness of God to us in Christ Jesus. Let’s consider what Christ has done for us, and now let’s pursue these things. I imagine their reaction is going to be like what I’ve described: “Absolutely, brother. Amen. No kidding.”

Jimmy Buehler: The inner pietist dies a very slow and painful death, and often resurrects again, only needing to be drowned and killed again. As we look at verses 8-9, “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.” One of the things that pietism loves is conditional statements. Pietism reads conditional statements in this threatening tone. What I think Peter is doing here is he is giving sound logic. When he says in 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.” That just makes sense.

What pietism wants to do is it wants to take that verse and it’s always going to ask the question, “What if it’s not increasing? What does that mean?” He gives us the solution in verses 3-4, which is really the grounds, as Jon said earlier, for the entire passage. What is the medicine to the soul that is ineffective? What is the prescription to the, to the person that is unfruitful? It’s never to pull out the whip of the Law and get them moving. It’s always remembering what the gospel says, that His divine power has granted you this ability, that in and of yourself you are dead face down in the water in sin, and without the saving grace, merciful, faith-gifting God, none of this would be possible. That is what you need to look to. That is where your eyes need to go.

When Peter says what he does in verse 8, and numerous times already, no kidding. If these qualities are not increasing, you are going to be ineffective because people are going to look at you and say, something’s off here. What’s not clicking in his brain? And then verse 9, “For whoever lacks these qualities is so near-sighted that he’s blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” Peter is again reminding them that when you act this way or when you fail to act this way, what are you saying by your life? That you have forgotten.

One of my friends’ pastor out in California – he talks about how remembrance is often the fuel of our faith, that we remember what God has done for us in Christ. Peter is saying the exact same thing here in verses 8-9.

Jon Moffitt: To your point, Jimmy, he says ineffective and unfruitful in what? Not in securing your salvation, not in proving your salvation – he says you’re ineffective and unfulfilled in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is where pietists can get afraid. They don’t want to be ineffective and unfruitful because then they’ll lack assurance. That is not what he’s saying here at all. If you’ll notice that every single one of these virtues – self-control, steadfastness, godliness, and all of these – are horizontal actions; they all have to do with you and your relationship to your brothers and sisters in Christ. The goal is to be able to not only preach but also demonstrate the gospel. What I mean by that is if I’ve been transformed, I now give grace because I’ve received grace. You don’t live the gospel. Let’s just be clear there. But what he’s saying is if you aren’t demonstrating these qualities when it comes to the responsibilities that God gave us – love your neighbor and the other one is love God – you’re going to be ineffective in doing that and it’s not going to be fruitful. A fruitful relationship with another believer is to give them grace, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and love. If you’re not giving those qualities, you are actually denying the knowledge that’s been handed to you. This is why he says you’re ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Now, when he’s talking about whoever lacks these qualities is near-sighted, this is where things can get murky for people. When you find yourself unkind, unloving, lacking godliness, you have fallen and you’re not virtuous in your actions, what you should be turning to is repentance and what causes you to repent, clearly in verse 9, is what’s cleansed you. You are always looking to the past to motivate you for the present. You always look to your position. You are secure in Christ so that you may pursue holiness. You never look to your holiness, what’s in the present, to look and secure what has happened in the past, my salvation. Peter does an excellent job here of using language to help us say, “Look to your past to motivate you to pursue holiness.”

Justin Perdue: I think this needs to be reiterated. The prescription, as you put it, Jimmy, whenever we find ourselves struggling is to remember the gospel and God throughout Scripture. The Old Testament and the New Testament both operate this way. He constantly is telling His people to remember what He has done: “Remember me. Remember who I am. Remember that I’m a redeemer. I’m the God who brought you out of Egypt.” Here we’re being told to remember that He is the God who has worked the greater exodus for you in saving you from slavery to sin, death, and hell. So we’re remembering the gospel.

In particular, we’re considering Jesus Christ. A couple of things come to mind: 2 Corinthians 3 where we’re told that by beholding the Lord Jesus, we’re transformed from one degree of glory to another. If we’re even thinking about growth in the faith, that happens primarily as we behold the Lord Jesus.

But then, also think about Philippians 2 where Jesus is held up as a model for us. You’re struggling with pride, which every human being would acknowledge. I’m a prideful person. What does Paul say in Philippians 2? Consider Christ. Look to Christ as not only the one who lived and died for you, but who laid his life down as a model of humility, service, and sacrifice as well. To consider the Lord Jesus is always the prescription.

Also a Romans 2 reality: the kindness of God, the mercy, the grace, and the patience of God is meant to lead us to repentance, and it’s God’s love that repents us. It’s not us wigging out over our performance and our lack of holiness that ultimately does it. It’s God’s Spirit working in us, as God has been gracious and merciful to wretches such as we. So I agree completely.

I want to transition us into verses 10-11. Verse 10, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities, you’ll never fall.” He is now exhorting them again to be diligent. Jimmy, you mentioned this earlier about how pietism always views expectations as threatening. I alluded to that earlier about how pietism will read conditional statements and there’s always some sort of jeopardy introduced: if you don’t do this well enough, then it will go poorly for you and you may not be able to stand before the Lord. The call to diligence is in no way contradictory to the gospel; we’ve got to get that through our minds. We can be called to be diligent and be safe; you can actually be secure and be exhorted to diligence. You’re safe because you’re in good standing with the Lord. I think that is in Peter’s mind here. He’s acknowledging the reality that if you practice these qualities, it’s going to go really well for you, and it’s going to go really well for everybody around you. You will profit and your neighbor will profit.

I was reading recently, and this a Baptist theologian from the 1700s who makes a statement, and I paraphrase, “The most perfect of men will be of no profit to God, but he will be blessed enough himself and he will be a blessing to his neighbor if we pursue righteousness.” This was his conclusion. I think that’s what Peter is saying as well. It will be good for you and good for your neighbor if you pursue these things.

Jon Moffitt: This is where the pietism can get very confusing. Here in verse 10 is where the heat comes in. What people point to is that we all the more should be diligent to confirm our calling and election. What are they going to point to? They’re going to point right back to the faithfulness, virtue, knowledge, self-control, and godliness. Even grammatically speaking, that is not what he’s pointing back to. You have to understand the last thing he just said: he was talking about the forgetting of your cleansing. That’s what he’s pointing back to. He can’t be pointing to the diligence of obedience, because if he does, he would completely counteract everything he said in verses 3-4 and in verses 8-9. He would have completely undermined the promises of the gospel.

This verse is often used for to call people’s assurance into question. You’re smoking out the lazy Christian; you’re smoking out the person who just wants to claim Jesus. That’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying to, be diligent to confirm your calling and election – how do you do that? You confirm it by looking at the promises and believing the promises. He says that if you practice these qualities…what qualities? Looking to how you have been cleansed, then you will never fall. Fall where? Fall away from Christ. That’s what he’s pointing to. He can’t be pointing you towards your faithfulness because that would be grace plus works. This is Roman Catholicism, which we did a podcast on. He can’t be pointing us to that.

This is the same thing that Paul does. In Ephesians 4, he says the same thing. If these things are true about you, you are to make yourself worthy of your calling and election – he points to our obedience and love for the brothers, but he does not say your obedience. The love of the brothers is what confirms it.

We have another Dazed and Confused that we are going to do soon, and it is on the same issue: to examine yourself to see if you are of the faith. People use this passage in the same way.

I don’t know if you guys have additional thoughts on there, but why is it that he can’t be pointing back to the qualities? When he says qualities, the qualities of godliness as the practice of assuring your calling and election as the ground of your assurance. Where else would you go to Scripture to say that just can’t be true?

Jimmy Buehler: I think of Ephesians 1 and 2. Ephesians 1 gives us this great Trinitarian theological treatise on how all the Persons of the Trinity are working in tandem for the redemption of broken and weary sinners.

Then we get into Ephesians 2 where Paul takes that glorious in-the-air gospel and he brings it to them to the ground level. He talks about how it’s been applied to us by grace alone, through faith alone, and counted to Christ alone. That’s Ephesians 2:1-10 and it’s not until those things are presented that, again, we start to see the imperatives be fleshed out in chapters 3 and on in the book of Ephesians.

But you have to remember that what we see in the book of Ephesians, as you think about the entirety of the letter, is that Paul never talks about the grounds of our assurance and our safety in Christ being what we do in response to the gospel. The grounds of our safety in Christ are bound up in the grace, mercy, and in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Period. Even our confession talks about this where we can be encouraged by the good works in this life of our assurance in Christ, but it can never ultimately be found there. They can bolster our assurance, but ultimately it is grounded in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Justin Perdue: A number of passages come to mind. One is Philippians 3 where Paul is very clear about the fact that he does not understand himself to have a righteousness of his own. That’s huge. This is related to 11.1 in the 1689 and corresponding passages, and even in the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Savoy Declaration that Jesus Christ is our whole and only righteousness by faith. Paul in Philippians 3 makes it clear: “I don’t consider myself to have a righteousness of my own, but I pursue the righteousness that is from God through faith in Jesus Christ.” So it’s very clear that the righteousness that will save is an alien righteousness, to use that Reformation language; it’s outside of us and it’s counted to us by faith.

I’m mindful of the entire first eight chapters of Romans. The argument that Paul unfolds there with the fact that there’s nobody good and everybody stands condemned by the Law, or by even the law of nature, and that now the righteousness of God has been revealed apart from the Law through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believed.

Then he gets into a number of realities that are relevant to this. Chapter 5 says we have peace with God, the Holy Spirit’s been poured out in our hearts, we were dead in Adam and we’re alive in Jesus. We’ve been united to Christ, and now we have a new identity but we still struggle with sin – Romans 7 – and yet we have hope not because we do everything right, but because nobody can bring a charge against God’s elect because Christ is the one who saved us. Nobody is going to separate us from the love of God and Christ Jesus.

Those are just a few thoughts. I know we’ve talked about Galatians. Jon, you may want to take us there.

Jon Moffitt: Galatians is probably the one that we point to quite often. There is no way that Peter and Paul are disagreeing with each other; there has to be coherence here.

So Paul clearly points the Galatians away from examining their own works, or even their own efforts as securing them by way of furthering… He says in Galatians 6:3, “Why are you so foolish to think that you’re going to begin by the Spirit and now perfect yourself by the flesh?” They take Peter’s instructions in 2 Peter and say that his pointing to your own faithfulness or your own efforts outside of the Spirit would counteract what Paul is saying in Galatians. So is Paul right or is Peter right? In context, I think Peter is making the argument that the qualities are pointing to the promises and the cleansing that we have and the act of trusting in those promises.

Justin Perdue: I think it’s clear in the New Testament that the realization of piety or the realization of godliness is always through what Jesus Christ has done for us. It’s never outside of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. That could not be more clear that that we do not, in our own effort, through white knuckling this thing and gritting our teeth; we don’t do this. It’s God who works in us and works through us and does it by His power.

Jon Moffitt: Just to go back to the context, he says in 2 Peter 1:10, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” There is no way Peter is saying your faithfulness to these qualities is what you’re entering into because if he is, that is grace plus works – that’s what he would be saying. So is he denying what he said in verses 3-4? No, I think it’s all in the same context. It’s all in the same pericope, which is a section of Scripture. He hasn’t moved on to the next paragraph yet.

Sometimes the English language can be confusing because you can’t look at it in the original languages, but when you’re trying to translate these words and you’re not looking at it in the entire context, you could argue it that Peter is saying that your faithfulness is what is going to secure for you your heavenly home. You have to look at all of Scripture. You have to look at all of the argumentation.

I would say Peter is not a pietist here. Peter is definitely a pietist because we all are at heart, but in what he’s teaching here, Peter is not teaching pietism. I think he is teaching an appropriate view of piety, which is around your faith in Christ and in your grounding your faith in Christ, here is how you should act. This is piety that we should all obey and adhere to.

Justin Perdue: Peter, in his fall in this, is a pietist by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What he writes here is infallible and true and good and right. We here at Theocast are in complete agreement with this kind of reasoning and thinking under the gospel: here’s your identity, here’s what Christ has done for you, here’s the faithfulness of God to you, now be diligent in pursuing godliness and piety, and be diligent in pursuing namely loving your brothers and sisters. Because if we’re going to reduce down the commands of God to us in this life, it is to love one another. It’s the words of Jesus. It’s the words of John repetitively in his writing. Even as history goes, there are reliable sources that would indicate that the apostle John, who lived longer than the other apostles, would be carried in his old age into assemblies and would simply say things like, “Little children, love one another.” That was his main exhortation. The gospel and the work of Christ for us in the sufficiency of Christ propel us forward in the pursuit of godliness. It’s not threatening and it’s not scary. It’s what we do in living in Christ.

Jimmy Buehler: You could look at this section and 2 Peter 1 and call it growing up in the gospel, and growing up and understanding what God has done for you in Christ. It just makes logical sense that the gospel is what pushes us to love our neighbor. The gospel is what pushes us to add virtue to our lives. This is the whole guilt-grace-gratitude idea that the Law exposes our guilt, the gospel shows us God’s grace, and then the gospel also motivates and gives us gratitude that fuels the holiness in the Christian life.

So pietism is very tricky. It is like the snake that is always around the corner asking the question, “Did God really say?” Because it always wants to point you to you being in control, that you are outside of God’s sovereign decrees, and that you can do whatever it is that you want and your eternity is within your own hand. That is ultimately what it wants to do, where we believe that the vast majority, the entire narrative of Scripture, is pointing to this truth that salvation belongs to whom? It belongs to the Lord. That is what we are always seeking to remind ourselves of and remind our people of specifically when we look at confusing passages like this.

Jon Moffitt: Gentlemen, we’re going to move over to the members’ podcast. Before we do, if someone is going to either preach this or teach this, how do you do so and not step all over people’s toes and help people slowly? To those who are new to Theocast, if you’re not from a Reformed background, this is all probably new to you. I can remember the first time I heard the word pietism. I had no idea what they were saying.

We’re going to work on that a little bit for you in helping you understand and really using scriptures like 2 Peter to help free people from legalism and pietism. How can you do that with grace and mercy and kindness? We’ll do that in the members’ podcast.

Jimmy Buehler: Thank you for listening to our conversation today. We’re going to head over to our members’ podcast. If you are unclear as to what that is, that is where we take the themes and the topics and the various things that we’ve discussed in this podcast, and we let our hair down a little bit and have a little bit more of a lively conversation. So that is exclusively for our members.

If you are interested in learning more about what it means to become a member, you can head to theocast.org and learn more about what it means to support us and receive additional resources.

Thank you for listening. We hope this conversation was beneficial and helpful to you. Go ahead and share this with those around you if you think that it would help them. Thank you for your support. We’re going to see you over in the members’ podcast.

Members Transcript
Members Podcast

Visit Us
Follow Me
Tweet

Login

Lost your password?

Join the
REFORMATION

Help Christianity rediscover REFORMED THEOLOGY!

Receive updates about all of our new books, videos, and special events.  

You have successfully join The Reformation! Check your email to confirm your subscription.