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Because Christians take salvation seriously, we are often plagued with doubts about it. Even if the problem does not afflict us, most Christians have had friends who were fearful that their salvation might be in doubt. Therefore the exhortation to ethical duty in 2 Peter 1 is not in itself an issue, for similar exhortations occur throughout the New Testament. But what does the author mean in 2 Peter 1:10 in exhorting us to make our "calling and election sure"? Does this mean that if we do not live the type of lifestyle that he is suggesting, we may not be elect? Does it mean that we might not be saved? Or does it mean that we might lose the salvation that we already have?
The passage is certainly calling for moral effort. The call for zeal in the phrase "be all the more eager" tips us off to that fact. If that were not enough, this verse comes right after another exhortation to moral living. In 2 Peter 1:5-7 we discover a chain of virtues that Christians are strongly encouraged (using a phrase similar to "be all the more eager") to develop. Developing them will make us effective and productive in our relationship to Christ, while the failure to develop them means that we are blind and have forgotten the cleansing from past sins that we have experienced. We are not surprised at this encouragement to moral effort, for the false teachers in 2 Peter are false precisely in that they are not living morally (false teaching in 2 Peter and in many other New Testament writings is false because it sets a wrong moral example, not just because it teaches wrong doctrine). They apparently claim to see, but in Peter's eyes they are blind.
To make one's "calling and election sure," then, is to guarantee or confirm or ratify (the term has those meanings in various contexts) the calling one has received. The calling, of course, is the calling to Christ referred to in 1 Peter 1:3. The ideas of calling and election are closely associated. Paul in Romans 8:30 puts election before calling, which is a logical order (God would decide and make a choice, or elect, before he called the person to Christ, or so it would seem to us), but other New Testament writers, including Paul himself, often pair the two concepts as virtual synonyms (see 1 Cor 1:26-27; 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 17:14). The point is that this word pair (and Peter is fond of word pairs) indicates God's action in bringing a person to Christ. This is what needs to be confirmed or ratified by the ethical obedience of the Christian. However, the author is not saying that moral effort can produce election to Christ's kingdom. The calling and election are first (the grace of God appears in 1 Pet 1:3), just as faith comes first in his list of virtues in 1 Peter 1:5. Everything else is to be a fruit of faith. What Peter does believe is that without moral living one will not enter the kingdom, which is precisely what Paul also believed (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:21).
Peter makes his point clear in the second half of the verse. To confirm one's calling is not to "stumble." This term can mean to sin, as in James 2:10, 3:2. But if this were all Peter had in mind, the sentence would be so obvious as to be meaningless: If you live ethically (do these things), you will not sin (fall). Therefore Peter is using the term as it is used in Romans 11:11, to "fall" in the sense of "come to grief" or "fall disastrously." In Jude 24 a related term refers to God's grace in keeping people from falling in this way, meaning "leaving the faith." The opposite of falling, then, is to "receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 1:11). In other words, the author pictures Christians on a journey begun with the calling and election of God. If they fall on the way, they will never reach the goal of the kingdom (salvation). But if they do not stumble, and instead develop the virtues he has already listed, they will in the end arrive at the kingdom and be warmly welcomed into it.
This teaching is important within the context of 2 Peter. As noted above, the false teachers in the church were not living according to Christian standards, yet they were claiming to be elect and on their way to Christ's kingdom. The author is denying this claim. While the whole New Testament witnesses to forgiveness of sin for all who repent, and acknowledges that Christians do sin from time to time, no author in the New Testament, whether Paul or James or Peter or John, believed that a person could be living in disregard of Christian standards and still be "saved" (or still inherit the kingdom). As Jesus said, a good tree bears good fruit (Mt 7:17). You cannot consistently get "unsaved" fruit from a "saved" tree.
The call in 2 Peter, then, is to move onward. There is no attempt to solve the question as to whether one can be "lost" after being "saved." Peter's concerns are much more practical. "Make sure that you are in fact saved!" That is, if you have experienced the call of God, you are to ratify it by your obedience to him, your moral submission. If you do this, there will be no doubt of your salvation nor of your eventual welcome into the kingdom. What about those who are concerned that they might not be truly elect? Their lifestyle of obedience to Christ, which flows from trust in him, should be convincing proof of their state of grace; if they lack this evidence, they would do well to repent and to make their "calling and election sure."