Our study of Exodus has prompted us to consider that God hardens some and draws others. (These are the doctrines of reprobation and election, respectively.) We’ve seen these ideas in Exodus 4:21-23, but in the NT we also find them in passages like Romans 9:6-24. But how are we to reconcile these things with other passages that seem to teach otherwise? Last time we began to look at 2 Peter 3:9, a text that some understand to be a challenge to the doctrine of election. The verse reads:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
We’ve already seen that the near context and the grammar of the verse itself will not allow us to understand this as a statement against the doctrine of election. The key to understanding the scope of the verse is the word “you.” In this post, I’d like to consider the question, “who is the ‘you’ in this verse, and what difference does it make?”
In short, Peter is writing to the community of professing believers, among whom he assumes are some who are not yet truly saved. This can be demonstrated from the line of thought in the first chapter.
In Chapter 1, the apostle states that the divine power of Christ 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, 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…” (vv3-4). God has granted salvation (“life”) and sanctification (“godliness”). Peter then exhorts the reader to “supplement your faith with virtue” and other various qualities that serve as evidence of salvation. So God has granted salvation, and we are to bear evidence of that salvation in the way that we live.
V10 is key: “Therefore, brothers be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” What does he mean? He intends for them to find evidence of their calling and election in the presence of these virtuous qualities in their lives. This tells us at least two things. First, their calling and election result in the virtuous qualities, for it is “His divine power” granted to them that empowers them not only to be saved, but also to exercise godliness. Without that divine power, there would be none of these virtuous qualities. V11 says that it is this exercise of godly virtue (which results from the divine power that saves and sanctifies) that secures their entrance into the eternal kingdom of the Lord.
So if we follow the chain backward, we see that an entrance into the eternal kingdom is the result of the godly virtue that is the result of their calling and election. Therefore, “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure.” Election results in eternal life.
Second, this kind of exhortation is always two-sided. (We find similar exhortations and warnings elsewhere in the NT –1 Cor 10:1-12; 2 Cor 13:5; Heb 3:12, 4:1-11 – these are all exhortations that essentially say, “Make sure you’re saved!). On one side, it is an exhortation to the saved to work to show the fruit of salvation. Why? Because that evidence is comforting to the soul. It is a way that we can be assured of our salvation. On the other side, it serves as a way to show those who think they are saved that they really are not, and therefore should repent and believe. Both sides serve the elect – one by assuring the elect of their salvation, the other by drawing the yet-unsaved elect to salvation. In this exhortation is the implicit understanding that Peter is writing to a group in which there may be elect ones who have not yet been saved.
This point alone is enough to indicate that 2 Pet 3:9 has a particular audience in view. Since, Peter in 1:10 has already exhorted the readers to examine themselves to see if their lives show evidence of calling and election, it would make perfect sense that in 3:9 he would say, “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 1:10 and 3:9 address the same issue – there are some elect who have not yet been converted.
So early in the letter, we have a clear reference to election, which does not fit with a more universal understanding of 2 Pet 3:9. The word “election” is a great difficulty for those who oppose the doctrine of election because it means “the state of being chosen”. To understand the verse to mean that God doesn’t choose particular persons to be saved, but He desires equally that all people come to salvation, we have to either ignore this reference to election or come up with some other explanation for it.
There are two ways that opponents to election try to deal with this. One is to take it to refer to a corporate election. In other words, God chose the church to be saved. He chose the body, rather than the individuals, so that any individual who chooses to join the body may be considered elect by virtue of their membership with the church. The individual has the prerogative to join the body or not join the body. So where that word is found in Scripture, they read it as a corporate election.
However, that understanding doesn’t make much sense in the context of 2 Pet 1:10. Under this view of election, God does not elect individuals – election is corporate. Therefore, Peter would have to be saying here, “be all the more diligent to make the election of the church sure.” How does that fit with the exhortation that precedes it – the exhortation to show the fruit of salvation? How does evidence of individual salvation help to make the election of a corporate body sure? It doesn’t.
The other way that some try to deal with the concept of election is to assert that election is based on God’s foreknowledge. In this view, God from the foundation of the world saw all those who would choose to be saved. He then did a “preemptive choosing.” Essentially, God chose to save those whom He foresaw would choose Him. They read that understanding of election into each use of that word.
But it bears repeating that “election” means “the state of having been chosen.” It does not mean “the state of being recognized beforehand as one who will make a particular choice.” It also does not mean “the state of being chosen preemptively.” It simply means “chosen.”
Now, it’s possible for a context to color the meaning of a word. But the burden is always on the interpreter to find contextual markers that point to such a meaning. In this case, in order to understand this as “election based upon foreknowledge” there must be something in the text indicating the basis on which the choice is made. There are no such markers in this text. There is nothing that would lead a completely objective reader to understand “election” to mean “election based on a foreknown choice.”
So, I would hold that the material in 2 Peter 1, especially the reference to election in 1:10, precludes a universal explanation of 2 Peter 3:9. Next time, we will look at chapter 2, which makes a universal understanding of this verse even less likely.