Virtue and Assurance Part 1
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/08/2003
"Virtue and Assurance"
2 Peter 1:5-7
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Now I want you to turn in your Bible to 2 Peter 1:5 to 11, I'm quite confident it will take me a few more messages to
complete our study of this text. I have been, frankly, quite amazed after being here over 20 years at Grace Church and for
the first time preaching a series on assurance to find that after every message that I have preached on this subject, at least
one person, sometimes five or six people, have come to me and said, "Up until tonight I never experienced the assurance of
my salvation." They have thanked me for speaking on this issue. They have thanked God for the clarity of His Word with
regard to assurance.
And it's sad to think about the fact that if that's true here in our church, it must be true all over Christendom, that there are
many many Christians who do not enjoy the assurance of their salvation. It's particularly sad because God wants us to have
full assurance, so it says in Hebrews 6:11 and 10:22. He wants us, according to 1 John 3:19, to have our hearts assured. He
wants us according to Colossians 2:2 to have the full riches of assurance. Every true Christian should enjoy the reality of his
or her salvation. Not to have that assurance is to live in doubt, to live in fear, to live in a certain form of spiritual depression
and a certain kind of misery. Certainly not to have assurance means you're unable to delight in God which is inherent in the
Christian experience, and you're unable to enjoy the anticipation of all of His promises, you're unable to relish the reality of
faith and the exhilaration of hope. You see, the promise of eternal life, the promise of abundant life presupposes assurance. If
I'm going to enjoy all that is mine in Christ, I have to know I'm in Christ. I'll live in fear, misery, doubt.
Peter is very concerned that his readers enjoy assurance. So it is a main theme in this very brief epistle. Now let me remind
you briefly of sort of how it fits. This is a very short book, just three chapters. The dominant theme of this book is chapter 2.
And chapter 2 is about false teachers, false prophets. And they are described in very clear graphic terms in the second
chapter. Now chapter 2 which focuses on false prophets and false teachers is surrounded by other teaching directed at
successfully countering their attacks. In other words, chapter 1 and chapter 3 are related to the theme in that chapter 1 and
chapter 3 tell the believer how to be equipped to deal with the false teachers. To fight off the encroaching deluding deception
of false teachers, the believer must know some things. The believer must have some accurate true knowledge. And the
question comes, what must we know? What must we know?
Well, in chapter 1 verse 12 through verse 21 we must know Scripture, we must know our Scripture. And he deals with that.
In chapter 3 we must know our sanctification. We must know our sanctification. And in chapter 1 verses 3 to 11, we must
know our salvation. If you know the Scripture and if you know you're sanctified and set apart unto God from sin and if you
know your salvation is real, then the attacks of false teachers are thwarted. If you don't know the Scripture, and if you do
not know and are not experiencing a continued state of sanctification and if you are not sure of your salvation, you become a
Now we're looking at that section on salvation, knowing your salvation. That is a very essential defense against false
teachers. If you have on the helmet of the hope of salvation, then the blows of Satan that come against you to make you
doubt your salvation and doubt the work of God are thwarted. You are protected from false teachers, demon spirits, and
Satan himself. So the first line of defense is you must know your salvation.
And actually the whole chapter up to now has been focused on that. In verse 1 he said you must know the source of your
salvation. It is yours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. In verse 2 he said you must know the
substance of your salvation, it is predicated on grace and peace multiplied in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
In verses 3 and 4, you must know the sufficiency of your salvation, that you have everything pertaining to life and godliness.
And now in verses 5 to 11, you must know the certainty of your salvation. You must be sure. And so, in verses 5 through
11 he speaks to the issue of certainty...of certainty. And this, beloved, is crucial if we are going to withstand the onslaughts
of false teachers. You say why. Because false teachers will always try to tell you another way of...what?...salvation...always.
But if I know where I stand in terms of salvation and there is no question, then there is no attraction from false teaching. We
have in verses 3 and 4 indicated that we have everything we need in Christ. And yet in verses 5 to 11 Peter says we have to
do everything that we possibly can to add to what Christ has done that we might experience certainty. That's quite a
paradox. Verses 3 and 4 says you have everything in Christ, verses 5 to 11 says now add to it. How can you add to
everything? That again is that marvelous paradox of being complete in Christ and yet having to do everything within our
strengths to follow Him.
And so, we find then verses 5 through 11 give us the path to assurance. Verse 5, let's look at it, "Now for this very reason
also," now I want to stop you right there. What reason? Because we have everything in Christ, because by His divine
power, verse 3, He's granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him who called
us by His own glory and excellence, for by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises in order that
by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
Let me go back over that just in summary. Because you have divine power, granting to you everything necessary for life and
godliness, because this comes to you through the true knowledge of Jesus Christ, through Him you have precious
magnificent promises, you have become partakers of the divine nature, you have escaped the corruption that is in the world
by lust, now for this reason...in other words, because of all that is yours in Christ, do this. And here again is the mystery of
spiritual life. We are given everything in Christ and yet it takes everything we have to follow up on that. Because we have all
in Christ, all the gracious resources for spiritual sufficiency, we are called upon to give maximum effort.
Well now false teachers will successfully prey on those who doubt their salvation. False teachers will have ways of making
them miserable, sinful, doubtful, weak, fainting in their worship, their prayer, making them joyless, impotent in service,
confused about what they believe. But to those who are confident in their salvation, confident in the riches Christ has given to
them, secure and assured in the true knowledge of the Savior, the false teachers have nothing to offer. So, for this reason,
because of all we have in Christ, let's add to it in order that we might enjoy its benefit, namely assurance...assurance.
Verse 5 then calls for a diligent effort. Now for this very reason applying all diligence. Now that gets us into the text. And
what I'd like to do is take this concept of assurance and break it down into four sections for you. And we'll just kind of
work through these sections one at a time. First is the effort prescribed, second the virtue pursued, the options presented
and the benefits promised. Let's start with the effort prescribed, we've just read it.
I need to say as a footnote here. You would think after verse 3 and 4 you have everything pertaining to life and godliness,
God has poured His divine power into you, you have all of this, that the next statement might be...so let go and let God.
Right? That the next statement might be, Hey, relax, just lay back and let God do it. Just the opposite. The effort prescribed,
verse 5 again, "Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence in your faith." Now there's the effort prescribed.
Because of God's saving work in us and because of its complete sufficiency, it's like Philippians 2:12 and 13, work out
your...what?...your salvation. God put it in, work it out, work it out...applying all diligence in your faith and then the next
word, supply. Now that's interesting. That's an interesting statement. Let me take you into it a little deeper.
Applying all diligence in your faith...what does the word applying mean? Well, just that. Making maximum effort. It's the idea
of bringing in every effort alongside of what God has done. God has done all of this, you bring alongside every effort. That's
the word applying. All diligence, spoude means eagerness, hastiness, it's used of someone who is in a hurry. It means zeal.
Very strong word. And so he is saying alongside of what God has done bring in every zealous, eager, hasty, hurried effort.
And then the word supply...the word supply. What does that really mean? It means to give lavishly. It means to give
generously. It's a very interesting word, by the way, kind of a different word. It's a word that means a choir master and then
there's a preposition on the front of it. You say, "Well, how could you translate a word that means choir master by the word
supply?" Simply, because choir master had the responsibility to supply everything that was needed for his choir. And so the
word came to mean a supplier, a choir master just was synonymous with a supplier. William Barclay says this, "Perhaps the
greatest gift that Greece and especially Athens gave to men was the great plays and dramas of men like Aeschylus,
Sophocles and Euripides, works of literature and art which are still among the most cherished possessions of the world. All
these plays needed large choruses for the choruses were integral parts of them. It was therefore very expensive to produce
such plays. In the great days of Athens there were public spirited citizens who voluntarily and willingly took on the duty at
their own expense of collecting, maintaining, training and equipping such choruses. It was at the great religious festivals that
these plays were produced. For instance, at the city Dionysia there were produced three tragedies, five comedies and five
what they called derhythms(?). Men had to be found to find and equip and train the choruses for them all. It could cost such
a man a great amount of money and it was the pride of such men to train and equip their choruses as nobly and splendidly as
they could. The men who undertook these duties voluntarily out of their own pocket and out of love for their city were called
choregeo," that's the word here, and the verb choregen(?) is the verb for undertaking such a duty to supply a chorus. The
word, therefore, has a certain lavishness in it. It never means to equip in a sparing way or a miserly way, it means lavishly
and willingly to pour out everything that is necessary for a noble performance. The word epichoregia went out in to a larger
world and it grew to mean not only to equip a chorus but to be responsible for any kind of equipping. It can mean to equip
and army with all necessary provisions and supplies. It can mean to equip the soul with all the necessary and lovely virtues
for life. But always at the back of it there was the idea of a willing and lavish generosity in the equipping. And so it is that
word that the Spirit of God chooses.
And back again in verse 5, "For this reason because of all that Christ has done for you, applying all diligence, supply lavishly,
generously,"...not in a miserly or shallow way. And then that little phrase "in your faith." Faith is assumed here. Faith is the
ground in which the flowers of sanctification grow. So, in your faith, your initial believing in Christ, you need to lavishly apply
all zeal to come alongside what Christ has done and do everything you can possibly do. That's what he's saying.
Now, somebody might say, "Well, isn't there assurance in faith?" Yes, there is assurance in faith and the one who believes in
the Lord Jesus Christ, as we have noted on other occasions, has every reason to be assured, if you know you believe then
the God of hope can fill you with all joy and peace in believing, says Romans 15:13. There can be joy and peace just in
believing. In 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 13, "We should always give thanks to God for you brethren beloved by the
Lord because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth."
In other words, these Thessalonians who were relatively new Christians could know they were saved and be filled with hope
because of faith in the truth. Faith carries with it assurance.
Hebrews chapter 6 also notes the same truth and 1 John 5, a very familiar text, verse 13, "These things I have written to you
who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life." Believing can be knowing.
Having faith can impart assurance. I can know I believe, you can know you believe and believing brings salvation. And you
can have a measure of assurance.
But I don't believe that faith, that initial saving faith, will continue to yield the fruit of assurance unless the effort is made to be
obedient to what this text says. You may enjoy that assurance initially, but if no zealous effort to lavishly supply what is
required alongside what Christ has done is made, then I believe there will be the forfeiture of the joy of assurance. And so,
there is a prescription given here and that prescription is diligently pursue the full supply of all these things. The fullness of
assurance, listen carefully, is the product of zealous effort to tap the full supply of spiritual virtue and lay it alongside the full
supply of God's gracious provision.
So, in a very real sense assurance comes to a believer who follows this prescription. Now that is the attitude. Let's look at
the action. We've seen that which was prescribed, the effort prescribed, a consummate effort requiring lavish zealousness.
But what is it that we're doing? I understand that attitude but what's the action? What am I supposed to do? Let's look at
point two then, the virtues pursued...the effort prescribed, the virtues pursued.
What does a believer need to pursue in his or her life to bring about the experience of assurance? Verse 5, "Supply moral
excellence and in your moral excellence knowledge, and in your knowledge self-control, and in your self-control
perseverance, or endurance, and in your endurance godliness and in your godliness brotherly kindness and in your brotherly
kindness love." Seven virtues to be pursued. And these virtues each are embodied somehow in the previous one. Out of
faith comes moral excellence, out of moral excellence comes knowledge, and so forth.
Now I want you to look at these. We don't need to spend a lot of time, but you'll be very refreshed as you see what Peter
means. First one is moral excellence, arete, it's the word virtue...virtue. In classical times the word meant the God-given
ability to perform heroic deeds. And it came to mean the quality of someone's life which makes them stand out as excellent.
It is very rare, by the way, in Scripture but not in secular Greek. It is a noble term. It is a term of heroism. It is a term of
moral heroism, moral excellence, quality. It was usually used to refer to the proper and excellent fulfillment of something. For
example, a knife was said to be arete if it cut well. A horse was arete if it ran strong and fast. A singer was arete if he or she
sang well. Sometimes the word came to mean courage. Sometimes it meant efficient excellence or operative virtue. It never
meant cloistered virtue or virtue in a vacuum as if it were an attitude but virtue which is demonstrated in a life. So he says in
your faith with all your heart and all your mind apply with great effort, eagerness, zeal and haste the lavish supplying of moral
excellence to your life.
Let me ask you a simple question. Where do you find the model of that excellence? Christ. That is why in Philippians
chapter 3 you have that monumental statement by Paul that lays down the pattern for all believers' behavior. He said it more
magnificently than any other place in Scripture. And what he said was, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high
calling of God in Christ Jesus." What he was saying was I pursue Christ's likeness. He admitted I haven't attained, but I
pursue it. The goal to be like Christ, the reward to be like Christ, the goal is the reward...you remember from our study of
Philippians. Pursue Christ's likeness. Pursue excellence. Remember what we saw last Sunday morning where Paul said to
the Thessalonians, "Excel still more."
And some have even suggested that it might mean moral energy. People who are speaking about this word seem to be
afraid, lexicographers, people who give definitions seem to be afraid that somebody will think the word has a static meaning
when it doesn't. And so some have translated it moral energy, the power that performs deeds of excellence. So, add then to
your faith moral excellence, quality of life, spiritual virtue, a sort of holy heroism.
Now, that leads us to the second of these virtues. Verse 5 says, in your moral excellence knowledge. Moral excellence
couldn't happen unless at its heart was knowledge, right? Discernment, spiritual insight. The word "knowledge" means
correct insight, understanding, truth properly comprehended, properly understood, properly applied. And so we want to
pursue moral excellence understanding that in our moral excellence there must be spiritual knowledge, discernment. We must
know before we can live. We must understand how we are to conduct ourselves before we can conduct ourselves in that
way. Moral excellence is dependent on gnosis, knowledge of a high character and a high quality. To borrow another
theological term, illumination...having your mind illuminated or enlightened about truth. This, of course, involves a diligent
study and pursuit of the truth in the Word of God.
Now inherent in your knowledge is another virtue, look at verse 6. In your knowledge, self-control. All bound up with a true
knowledge and true discernment is self-control. The word literally means the Greek, holding oneself in...holding oneself in.
The only other place it's used in the Bible is Galatians 5:23. And in Peter's day it was used in athletics. Athletes were
self-controlled, self-restrained, self-disciplined. They beat their body in to submission, 1 Corinthians 9:27. They abstain from
unhealthy food and wine and sexual indulgence to keep themselves holy to disciplined exercises for the sake of athletic
achievement. Controlling the flesh, the passions, the bodily desires rather than allowing yourself to be controlled by them.
So he says pursue moral excellence realizing that at the heart of moral excellence is spiritual discernment, realizing that at the
heart of spiritual discernment is self-control. What does it matter if I discern if I don't control? How can I be morally
excellent? By the way, just as a footnote, false teachers typically claim that their true and secret knowledge had freed them
from the need for self-control. Remember, we discussed that. They preached license to indulge. They were greedy, they
were exploiters. They followed their own lusts. Peter will say all of that in chapters 2 and 3. And they restrained nothing. But
Peter reverses that. And he says any theology that divorces faith from conduct is heresy. Faith and in that faith moral
excellence, and in that moral excellence spiritual discernment and in that spiritual discernment self- control. This is essential to
Christian living...controlling fleshly desires consistent with what I know about truth for the sake of producing moral
excellence. Virtue then guided by knowledge disciplines desire and makes it the servant, not the master of one's life. That is
self-control. Self-control has to be one of the greatest of all Christian virtues.
And there's more, a fourth. Verse 6, "And in your self- control endurance..." would be the best translation, hupomone,
patience or endurance in doing what is right, never giving up to temptation, never giving up to trial, never giving up to
difficulty, never giving up to sin. Michael Greene(?) said, "The Christianity of such a man is like the steady burning of a star
rather than the ephemeral brilliance and speedy eclipse of a meteor." This is a magnificent portrait of what we are to pursue.
We pursue moral excellence based upon spiritual discernment which produces self-control which produces endurance under
temptation without succumbing.
By the way, this word hupomone really does resist one word definition and there is no English equivalent. In classical Greek
it isn't a common word but it used in the Scripture frequently of toil, trouble that comes against a person against his will
making life extremely difficult, painful, grieving, shocking. It even brings along the thought of death. It is used in classical
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