Without light from the Holy Spirit, truth is mere doctrine. That statement says so much. Before Christ saved me, I read the Bible daily for sixteen years without understanding what it said. (What motivated that is another story.) Then the Lord burst into my life bringing with me the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
Suddenly the Bible started to make sense. I began to realize the difference between trying to figure it out with only my own intellect and reasoning, and knowing what it means because God opened my spiritual understanding.
I began noticing one peculiarity; some passages look like they say we must earn our salvation, yet others clearly say otherwise. God doesn’t contradict Himself, so what is going on? As a seeker, it didn’t make sense, but as a Christian with the Spirit’s illumination, I began to understand that such seeming contradictions actually are not what they looked like.
One passage that could be interpreted to mean “you must earn your salvation” is 2 Peter 1:10-11. It says, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble, for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
As a Christian I know that I cannot insure my salvation by what I do, so this has to be talking about something else. In context, that something else becomes notable.
Peter is writing to Christians who are persecuted to the point that they are wondering if they really do belong to God. Peter tells them to be diligent and add various qualities to their faith. In other words, they already believed and just needed to develop their Christian character (vs. 5-7). By doing that, they would live fruitful lives and demonstrate that they know Jesus. Any failure to grow and develop would indicate they had forgotten they had been cleansed from their sin (vs. 8-9).
So Peter was writing to folks who already believed. He was not telling anyone to earn their salvation because his readers already had it.
My study Bible says that even though God “knows those who are His” we might not always have that assurance. Security in Christ is a Holy Spirit-revealed fact that eternal life is eternal! Assurance is the inner confidence that this is my possession, regardless of what is happening in my life.
By living as God calls me to live, my life is useful to God and I will not stumble into fear, doubt, questioning or despair. I will enjoy the assurance that I have been called by God and belong to His kingdom. I sometimes stumble into sin, but even then, I know that does not end my security. Christ already died for that sin, and I must confess and forsake it, but disobeying God cannot “un-save” me, no more than doing good can earn my salvation.
Pulling these verses out of context brings confusion and fosters false teaching. As a Christian, I am commanded to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), not take bits and pieces here and there to support a personal theory or the very human idea that I can please God and save myself all by myself.
Peter’s words may produce an anxious “I must work hard to get to heaven” in those who do not understand this entire passage, but those same words, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, bring joy to weary and anxious believers. Assurance of my security is enhanced by obedience, and as I “make my calling and election sure” God puts a new spring in my step and deepens the hope and confidence He has already put in my heart.