Jason Stellman, recent convert to Roman Catholicism, commented the following thoughts for discussion at Green Baggins on 2 Peter 1:3-11:
1. The whole discussion about fruitfulness and its resulting entrance into the eternal kingdom is rooted in the believer’s participation in the divine nature, which coincides perfectly with Jesus’ emphasis on union (“I in them, them in me”), as well as Paul’s (“in Christ”) and John’s (“abide in him”). Union rather than imputation seems to be the consistent emphasis on the part of the NT writers.
2. Faith alone, for Peter, is not enough for entering the eternal kingdom. It must be “added to” or “supplemented” with other spiritual fruits, the final of which is “love.” This is what James argues more directly when he says that “faith alone” justified neither Abraham nor Rahab, but “faith was active along with their works” (and in that context he cites familiar “loving your neighbor fulfills the law” refrain). It’s not hard to see the connection between this and “faith working through love.”
3. If these qualities are in us, we are “fruitful,” but if they are lacking, we are not just unfruitful Christians, but “blind.”
4. By reminding his readers that they had “escaped the corruption that is in the world” and were “cleansed from their former sins,” Peter seems to be saying (1) that such could be the case for people who fail to “enter the eternal kingdom,” and (2) that it was their “former sins” from which they were cleansed, and not all their sins, past, present, and future.
5. At the end, Peter ties together very explicitly the “practicing of these qualities” on the one hand, and “gaining an entrance into the eternal kingdom” on the other.
In response, John Calvin weighs in via his Commentary on the 2 Peter passage:
It may, however, be here asked, whether Peter, by assigning to us the work of supplying or adding virtue, thus far extolled the strength and power of free-will? They who seek to establish free-will in man, indeed concede to God the first place, that is, that he begins to act or work in us; but they imagine that we at the same time co-operate, and that it is thus owing to us that the movements of God are not rendered void and inefficacious.
But the perpetual doctrine of Scripture is opposed to this delirious notion: for it plainly testifies, that right feelings are formed in us by God, and are rendered by him effectual. It testifies also that all our progress and perseverance are from God. Besides, it expressly declares that wisdom, love, patience, are the gifts of God and the Spirit.
When, therefore, the Apostle requires these things, he by no means asserts that they are in our power, but only shews what we ought to have, and what ought to be done. And as to the godly, when conscious of their own infirmity, they find themselves deficient in their duty, nothing remains for them but to flee to God for aid and help....
But he that lacketh these things. He now expresses more clearly that they who profess a naked faith are wholly without any true knowledge. He then says that they go astray like the blind in darkness, because they do not see the right way which is shewn to us by the light of the gospel. This he also confirms by adding this reason, because such have forgotten that through the benefit of Christ they had been cleansed from sin, and yet this is the beginning of our Christianity. It then follows, that those who do not strive for a pure and holy life, do not understand even the first rudiments of faith.
But Peter takes this for granted, that they who were still rolling in the filth of the flesh had forgotten their own purgation. For the blood of Christ has not become a washing bath to us, that it may be fouled by our filth. He, therefore, calls them old sins, by which he means, that our life ought to be otherwise formed, because we have been cleansed from our sins; not that any one can be pure from every sin while he lives in this world, or that the cleansing we obtain through Christ consists of pardon only, but that we ought to differ from the unbelieving, as God has separated us for himself. Though, then, we daily sin, and God daily forgives us, and the blood of Christ cleanses us from our sins, yet sin ought not to rule in us, but the sanctification of the Spirit ought to prevail in us; for so Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 6:11, "And such were some of you; but ye are washed," etc...
Now a question arises, Whether the stability of our calling and election depends on good works, for if it be so, it follows that it depends on us. But the whole Scripture teaches us, first, that God's election is founded on his eternal purpose; and secondly, that calling begins and is completed through his gratuitous goodness. The Sophists, in order to transfer what is peculiar to God's grace to ourselves, usually pervert this evidence. But their evasions may be easily refuted. For if any one thinks that calling is rendered sure by men, there is nothing absurd in that; we may however, go still farther, that every one confirms his calling by leading a holy and pious life. But it is very foolish to infer from this what the Sophists contend for; for this is a proof not taken from the cause, but on the contrary from the sign or the effect.
Moreover, this does not prevent election from being gratuitous, nor does it shew that it is in our own hand or power to confirm election. For the matter stands thus, -- God effectually calls whom he has preordained to life in his secret counsel before the foundation of the world; and he also carries on the perpetual course of calling through grace alone. But as he has chosen us, and calls us for this end, that we may be pure and spotless in his presence; purity of life is not improperly called the evidence and proof of election, by which the faithful may not only testify to others that they are the children of God, but also confirm themselves in this confidence, in such a manner, however, that they fix their solid foundation on something else.
At the same time, this certainty, mentioned by Peter, ought, I think, to be referred to the conscience, as though the faithful acknowledged themselves before God to be chosen and called. But I take it simply of the fact itself, that calling appears as confirmed by this very holiness of life. It may, indeed, be rendered, Labor that your calling may become certain; for the verb poieisthai is transitive or intransitive. Still, however you may render it, the meaning is nearly the same. The import of what is said is, that the children of God are distinguished from the reprobate by this mark, that they live a godly and a holy life, because this is the design and end of election.
Hence it is evident how wickedly some vile unprincipled men prattle, when they seek to make gratuitous election an excuse for all licentiousness; as though, forsooth! we may sin with impunity, because we have been predestinated to righteousness and holiness! For if ye do these things. Peter seems again to ascribe to the merits of works, that God furthers our salvation, and also that we continually persevere in his grace. But the explanation is obvious; for his purpose was only to shew that hypocrites have in them nothing real or solid, and that, on the contrary, they who prove their calling sure by good works, are free from the danger of falling, because sure and sufficient is the grace of God by which they are supported.
Thus the certainty of our salvation by no means depends on us, as doubtless the cause of it is beyond our limits. But with regard to those who feel in themselves the efficacious working of the Spirit, Peter bids them to take courage as to the future, because the Lord has laid in them the solid foundation of a true and sure calling. He explains the way or means of persevering, when he says, an entrance shall be ministered to you. The import of the words is this: "God, by ever supplying you abundantly with new graces, will lead you to his own kingdom." And this was added, that we may know, that though we have already passed from death into life, yet it is a passage of hope; and as to the fruition of life, there remains for us yet a long journey. In the meantime we are not destitute of necessary helps. Hence Peter obviates a doubt by these words, "The Lord will abundantly supply your need, until you shall enter into his eternal kingdom." He calls it the kingdom of Christ, because we cannot ascend to heaven except under his banner and guidance.