II Peter 1—add works to get assurance?

Those puritans who advocated “the practical syllogism” read II Peter 1 as teaching that we must add works and virtues to our lives in order to gain and maintain assurance. But II Peter 1 teaches that we have to make our calling and election sure in order to even know if our added works and virtues are acceptable and pleasing to God.

In other words, we need to think about what gospel it was by which we were called. Were we called by a gospel which conditioned our end on our having works and virtues? Or were we called by the true gospel which says that we must be accepted by God in Christ’s righteousness before we can do anything good or acceptable to God?

The legalists  are careful to say that their works are the evidence of Christ’s work in them. Nevertheless, most legalists do not test their works by the gospel doctrine of righteousness. Most legalists think you can be wrong about the gospel doctrine, and nevertheless still show off your salvation by your works and acts of piety. In other words, legalists (like Paul Washer) raise doubts about those who don’t “try more effort”, but they don’t have these same doubts about “sincere and hard-working” Arminians and Roman Catholics.

Peter, a servantand apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: 2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

3 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, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 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. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

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15 Comments on “II Peter 1—add works to get assurance?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    II Peter 1:8 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. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

    Again, notice the verbs are in their past tense; “having forgotten”, “was cleansed”. Peter is not saying that the man has not been cleansed from his sins. Rather, he is saying the man has forgotten this. That is what is making the man unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ. He has the knowledge of Christ. He has eternal life. The problem is that he has forgotten this.

    How can it be said that a man has forgotten what he knows? How can someone know what they don’t remember? He knows this, but he has forgotten it. It sits like a name on the tip of his tongue. He knows it, but for the life of him he can’t recall it right at this moment.

    How? Why?

    There are several answers for this, but only one that Peter is interested in. A person can get so bogged down in his life by a particular sin that he becomes unfruitful in his knowledge of the gospel.

    Sin brings with it ready made problems that are eager to set up house and home; problems that can become so big, so devastating to a person’s life (bios), that eventually everything else, knowledge of the gospel included, finds itself hidden in the shadow of a mountain of hopelessness and rot. Such a person has forgotten that he has been cleansed from sin.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Galatians 6:1-5

    Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.

    Puritan legalists don’t do that, and can’t do that!

    Make your calling and election sure. How do we do that? Peter has just told us at the start of this passage. Everything we need pertaining to eternal life and godliness we have already received by way of eternal life. We make our calling and election sure by reminding ourselves of the gospel. Believe the gospel, again and again.. Know that God is trustworthy. Know that what He says about His people is true. Then, and only then, will your efforts to not be a terrible father please Him. This doesn’t mean you won’t be a terrible father. It just means that should and when you fail, the brothers will remind you that God has cleansed you from even this sin too.


    We can the gospel is “objective” and not about us (you or me), but there is still a distinction to be made between believing the gospel (knowing already that those who believe it will be saved) and knowing that we ourselves have believed the gospel and repented of the false gospel.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    We shouldn’t have faith in our faith But sometimes we do. The irony is that having faith in our faith is a lack of faith. And it’s true that our faith is less than what it should be.

    I think the best cure is always to focus on the object of faith, and not on my believing. Faith is not the cause of regeneration, (even Lutherans know that, but then they say water), but also faith is not the cause of justification either. Not so many Reformed know that.

    People say that “you can choose to work, but you can’t chose to believe”. But I don’t see why they say that. Faith is not simply in God’s promise to forgive in the future. Faith is also in what God did in Christ in the past to give life to the dead.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    I don’t mind if “Calvinism” is killed, but there is a “Calvinism which kills” by not making justification the main thing. This non-gospel Calvinism (of folks like Paul Washer) is mainly about regeneration.

    This killing Calvinism thinks you can be regenerate apart from ever hearing the gospel of justification. Killing Calvinism also thinks the gospel is about being getting a “new man” inside of you. So do the Roman Catholics. So do the self-righteous puritans who base their assurance on their change of behavior and attitude. (Even when they “slip into sin”, they don’t want to and they mourn about it.)

    Instead of focusing on what Christ did in history, killing Calvinism puts the focus on our inward selves, because history to them is about what happens in us inwardly. Killing Calvinism can make no sense of a propitiation, or a legal justification from wrath to favor, because its “gospel” is not about what Christ did but about searching inside ourselves to find the person of Christ there, as evidenced by our struggle with “two natures”.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    There are promises that the elect will one day be justified and given immortality in the age to come. But there is no promise in the Bible that person a or b is elect. II Peter 1 has to do with how we come to know if we are elect, not about why God elected us and certainly NOT about how God might elect us in the future.

    But ‘desiring to be elect” is not the same as desiring the bengals to have won their playoff game this year. It’s too late for that, since we know already that the bengals lost. But, even if we don’t know that we are elect, we can’t know that we are not elect. So we can desire to know that we are elect, but not that God would elect us in the future. II Peter 1 teaches that we discover our election not by our works but by our calling by the gospel. Those who have been called effectually now know that they were elect. And they now know their works are acceptable to God, not to gain blessing, not even to gain assurance, but because they already have assurance.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Haldane, p 155. No, but by the law of faith—-not by a law requiring faith, as if the gospel were a law, or even a new mitigated law. “Without the deeds of the law” does not signify that perfect obedience to the law is not necessary. It signifies that no obedience to the law is necessary. Our good works are not necessary in any respect for our justification. They have nothing to do with it.”

  8. markmcculley Says:

    II Peter 1:3 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, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

    First, not all human nature now participates in the divine nature

    only those who share in the faith, II Peter 1:1

    only the called and elect, II Peter 1:10

    Second, God does not imputed righteousness to us because we participate in the divine nature

    God justifies the ungodly, and as a result they participate in the divine nature

  9. markmcculley Says:

    when I am obeying him (however imperfectly) more than you are, my progress in sanctification is the fruit of free justification and my progress in sanctification does contribute to my assurance, but if your lack of progress in sanctification contributes to your lack of assurance, remember not to make your progress the first thing but only something second or third in your assurance, because even if you have a little less gas (and more water) in your tank than I do, you do have some gas, and none of us have all gas (some water is mixed into all our progress) , and assurance is not all or nothing, which is why my progress in sanctification is not the first main thing but only one of the reasons that gives me assurance

    Sure, assurance is for all who believe, but the parents who are believers do have the promise that God will be the God of their children and that their children can be taught the law and given the conditions of salvation and are more likely to meet those conditions, but this perhaps should not be the primary reason for assurance, since it’s not really infallible, so it would be better to add into the mix some other reasons for assurance, like for example, my progress in sanctification, because when I do more works I tend to believe that I believe more than when I do less works, but as I say, this is not the primary factor in assurance but it is one factor unless you are an antinomian. So believing that you are in fact gradually becoming more conformed to Christ, even though it will never really “complete your sanctification”, is why we need to think of this life (and not purgatory) as a time of probation which tests our assurance of faith by the evidence of our works

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Peterson appreciates J. C. Ryle’s work on holiness, but worries that it could create a “graded form of progress” which spawns unrealistic expectations and leaves Christians in doubt about their final state before God.

    In Peterson’s view, an unbalanced focus on progressive sanctification misses the New Testament’s primary method of motivating us to holiness: emphasizing our justification and sanctification by faith in Christ (70). To provide a needed corrective, he works through New Testament epistles, encouraging us to take seriously the Scriptural warnings about neglecting holy living, and urging us to keep our attention from shifting from God’s grace to human effort (91).

    The key to understanding the relationship between sanctification and the other aspects of salvation is found in eschatology. “Moral renewal proceeds from our union with Christ in his death and resurrection” (95), he writes, before launching into a lengthy examination of the Romans 6-8passage’s teaching on sanctification.

    “Those who belong to the new age are liberated through Christ, but are not yet entirely free from the old age” (96).

    We have died to sin

    in a judicial sense (Christ died on the cross for us),
    a baptismal sense (we identify with Christ’s death),
    a moral sense (we walk as resurrected people),
    and a literal sense (we will be united with him in resurrection) (96-98).
    Living as sanctified people in the world that is passing away should inform our behavior: we struggle in a fallen world and yet live with confidence in God’s ultimate plan of redemption.

    Sanctification and the Other “-tions”

    In the final chapter, Peterson examines the relationship between sanctification and glorification, adoption, and regeneration.

    We should not see sanctification primarily as a process that follows justification, but as “another way of describing what it means to be converted or brought to God in Christ and kept in that relationship” (136).

    Other terms (renewal, transformation, growth) are used in the New Testament to express the reality of “progressive sanctification,” not the word sanctify. We are called to live out the implications of our sanctification by pursuing holiness as a lifestyle. The picture of what progress entails is not given to us in detail, and therefore, we should avoid simplistic steps of progress in growth and holiness.


  11. markmcculley Says:


    Perkins: Christ’s mercy is measured not by how many people receive it but in its justice and efficacy.

    xxx– When the son of God suffered the curse for a short time, it is more then if all men and angels had suffered the same for ever.

    The Son doth not sacrifice for those for whom he doth not pray. The intercession and sacrifice are conjoined. Further, on the cross there was a real transaction. Christ bore the sins of his people

    xxx–The reprobate are without excuse because of their unbelief. The inability of the reprobate to believe is voluntary and cannot be excused, because it is not infused by God, but by birth.

    The very will to believe is faith. Perkins recommends that those in a state of humility or despair be pointed to the gospel. He does not advocate that afflicted consciences look to their humility, despair, works, , or to the fact that they are under conviction for relief or hope, whether they are believers or unbelievers,

    Mark—Even if works “take the last place” in our assurance, looking to our works as part of our assurance undermines all of our assurance. Our behavior is not good enough.

    Perkins interprets the idea of faith as evidence to mean “faith so convinces the mind, understanding, and judgment, as that it cannot but must needs, yea it compel s it by force of reasons unanswerable, to believe the promises of God certainly.He is aware of times when God takes away the feeling of his favor

  12. markmcculley Says:


    You are not doing better. You are not doing worse.

    In truth, we don’t know how we’re doing. Only God knows

    Our lives are not a moral project. The moral improvement (or progress) of our lives is not the goal of the Christian life. We imagine that if we manage to tell fewer lies, or lust fewer times, or fast a little more carefully, and swallow our angry words more completely, we are somehow the better for it and have “made progress.” But this is not so.

    For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Mathew 16:25)

    What is happening in our spiritual lives is not the perfecting of a better “me.”

  13. markmcculley Says:

    ohn Gill–1. no such thing is ever to be found in the scriptures, namely, that good works are necessary to salvation. But if this was so principal a part of evangelic truth, as the adversaries plead, it should, be contained in express words in the scriptures

    2. The apostle treating of the causes of our salvation, removes good works, and entirely excludes them; and teaches, that he only has blessedness, to whom God imputes righteousness without works, Romans 4:6. Compare Ephesians 2:8, Titus 3:5. If therefore good works are entirely excluded from the causes of salvation, how will the same be necessary to salvation?

    3. That which is not necessary to our justification, that is not necessary to salvation; because there are no other causes of salvation than of justification: But good works are not necessary to justification.

    4. If we are saved by grace, then good works are not necessary to salvation; for the antithesis remains firm, If of grace, then not of works, otherwise grace is not grace, Romans 11:6. Romans 6:23. Ephesians 2:8, 9.

    5. If by the obedience of one Christ we all obtain justification of life and salvation, then we are not saved by our own obedience: Romans 5:17-19

    6. What is ascribed to faith alone, as it is contradistinguished from works, that is not to be attributed to works: But salvation is ascribed to faith alone, John 3:16; Mark 16:16; Romans 1:17 and 4:6; Galatians 3:11;Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5. Heb 10:38.

    7. What is necessary to salvation is prescribed and required in the evangelic doctrine, Romans 1:16. and 3:27. But good works, as necessary to salvation, are not prescribed in the gospel John 3:16 and 6:40; Romans 1:17 and 4:6, seeing the law is the doctrine of works, the gospel the doctrine of faith, Romans 3:27; Galatians 3:12.

    8. If good works were necessary to salvation, we should have whereof to glory; but the holy Spirit takes away all glorying from us, and for this very reason excludes good works from hence, Ephesians 2:8, 9. Romans 3:27 and 4:1, 2.

    9. Wherever the scripture produces reasons for which good works are necessary, it mentions quite others, than that they are necessary to salvation; namely, that we ought diligently to perform good works, because of God, because of Christ, because of the holy Spirit, because of the holy angels, because of our neighbor, because of ourselves, yea, even because of the devil.


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