EXPLORING THE WORD
Blameless and Spotless
Is goodness a gift or an achievement?
By Fredric A. Carlson
The New Testament expressions such as "spotless," "blameless," and "peace" in 2 Peter 3:14 seem to mean that a person who has received Jesus Christ as his Savior already is enjoying those gifts from God. Does that mean that in his hunger to be good, a believer needs to make no further effort to lead a blameless life before Jesus? Does God make one good, or must he work to be good? And if receiving Christ makes one instantly perfect without personal effort, why did the New Testament writers use so many pages to exhort believers to gain victory over sin, and explain how to do so?
The answer is not either/or but both/and.
To restore man to the goodness for which He originally created us, God gives us the privilege and joy of joining Him in doing what we are not capable of achieving on our own (Romans 1:18-3:18). God does that part that only He is capable of, and expects us to do the part that He gives us energy to do.
God's Part: Notice that Peter wrote this letter ("epistle") to "those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours" (2 Peter 1:2). That means that in grace and mercy, God had given the readers faith to believe on Jesus Christ. That faith was a gift. Unearned and undeserved. God had forgiven them all their sins, and declared them to be righteous in Jesus Christ. Peter wrote these words to those graced believers. The words may be applied to all others who are such believers in Jesus Christ. But these words have nothing to do with non-believers. The words do not promise that unbelievers can achieve "spotless, blameless peace with Jesus," no matter how much self-effort they exert.
This work of God (that declares a Christian to be united with Christ, and therefore spotless, blameless, and at peace with God because of what Christ is and has done) places the person in the position and status of a child of God (John 1:12; Romans 4:1 through 5:2; Ephesians 1:3–14). In that position, God attributes or imputes to that believer all of Christ's righteous virtues and acts. In legal financial terms, God puts Christ's virtues and saving works as assets on the sinner's account.
It is in that sense that Peter addressed the believers as already spotless, blameless, and at peace with God.
The God who declares people to be spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him because of who Christ is and has done, also goes to work in their hearts to bring them into conformity with what He has declared them to be. With the new birth He gives them spiritual life to live out what He has declared them to be (John 3:3-8; Ephesians 1:15-2:10). With this spiritual energy, God makes it possible for believers to put into practice the benefits of their position. He provides what we need to bring our state into conformity with our status. He makes it possible for us to appropriate the righteous life of Christ that He attributes to us by our faith-union with Christ. Only the new birth provides motive and strength for a believer to work toward spotless, blameless peace with God.
The Believer's Part: That is where a believer's diligent effort is required in order to grow into the daily experience of that spotless, blameless peace with Christ that God declares that we already have in our blessed union with Christ.
Second Peter 3:14 reads, "So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this [the new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness mentioned in verse 13] make every [diligent] effort to be found spotless, blameless, and enjoying peace with him" (emphasis added). See also what Peter wrote in his first letter, 1 Peter 1:23-2:3. This encouragement teaches the same thing that Paul wrote to the Philippian believers, "...work out your own salvation with reverence and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Those believers had not earned or deserved their salvation by good works or keeping laws. But they needed to exert diligent spiritual effort in order to grow and develop the gift of being in Christ.
Please notice the context in which Peter urged his readers to make this diligent effort. Second Peter 3:13 reads, "But in keeping with [in believing] God's promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness." Let me paraphrase verses 13 and 14 into one sentence: "Because you are looking forward to what God has promised — that is, a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness — make every diligent effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him." The point is that because his readers believed God's promise, they were looking forward to being with Christ in His perfected new creation. To make that reality come completely true, they were constantly continuing to grow in blameless righteousness that enjoys peace with Christ.
All believers always have more room for growth in these ways. We will achieve absolutely, totally spotless, blameless practical perfection only when the day arrives that we are with Him. Oh, yes, God now credits all those in Christ with His righteousness (Acts 13:39; Romans 5:1; Galatians 2:16). That is what qualifies us for heaven. But we must give constant diligence to love Him, to do the things that He asks of us, and to refuse temptation, in order to grow more and more practically blameless. This is part of what prepares us to appreciate and enjoy heaven. See Romans chapters 5 and 6 for Paul's development of this.
Peter had good reason to urge believers to take responsibility for good works and to refuse temptation, and thus to grow more spotless so they could more joyfully and gratefully enjoy their peace in Christ. He knew that God expects us to serve Him, and to avoid the temptations that would spot us, that leave us blamed, and that disturb our peace with Christ. That means that in the spiritual life of the new birth God must have given us the power to say a joyful "Yes" to godly righteousness, and to say a firm "No" to temptation. Peter taught the "Yes" at the beginning of this letter (1:6-7). And Paul said the same thing (1 Timothy 4:8; 6:5-11). Both Paul (Titus 2:12) and Peter (1 Peter 2:11) showed us how to say "No" to temptation when they told us to "deny" and "keep away from" worldly and fleshly lusts. Before the Holy Spirit gave us new birth in Christ, we were slaves to sin; in Christ we are free to serve God in righteousness (Romans 6:6-23). Before the new birth, we were bound so that we could say only "Yes" to our master, sin, and "No" to God and godliness. The new birth frees us to be able to say "No" to sin by saying "Yes" to godly righteousness in and by Jesus Christ.
Some people profess to believe on Christ, but take their relationship with Him and the Christian life only casually. They put into it little care or effort. They don't care for reading God's words, prayer, worship, or witness. Such perpetual spiritual babies, even though they may have declared faith in Christ, seem never to grow out of spiritual infancy (1 Corinthians 3:1; Hebrews 5:14). They never learn to take responsibility for their own spiritual welfare. Someone else must feed them, change their spiritual diapers, bathe them, and take care of them. They act like spoiled babies who always receive. They never grow up to be givers like God. Such lazy "Christians" will not experience growth in spotless, blameless victory over sin. They will not enjoy "the peace of Christ." They fail to thrive. They leave the observer confused. Are they really believers of not?
God's word through Peter is that God gives us the heart and energy to give diligent effort to bring our God-given position into practice, our state into agreement with our status, to appropriate that which God has attributed to us. He gets the ultimate credit for uniting us with Christ, for giving us faith to receive Christ as our righteousness, and for giving us His energy to make our own the spotless blamelessness of Christ, and to enjoy the peace of Christ as we approach the day when God makes the earth and heavens new, the place of complete righteousness.
Paul put both God's role and our responding role of this Divine-human partnership into beautiful perspective in his letter to the Philippian church:
But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me....
Forgetting the past, and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Image Credit: Nick Mostek; "ClearRocks"; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Sin-Evil
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