Spiritual Growth: (1) Grow in Grace
March 2, 2003 / No. 3139
Dear radio friends,
Where there is life, there must be growth. That is true of your baby. If your baby did not grow you would be alarmed. You would seek the best medical advice. That is true for a farmer. The wheat that he planted does not come up and grow? He would be on the phone immediately to the agriculture department of a university to send out a specialist to analyze the problem and provide a solution. There must be growth if there is life.
That is, above all things, true spiritually. Spiritually we must also grow in the grace that is in Jesus Christ. This is the exhortation we receive in the Word of God, II Peter 3:18 : “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
The work of God’s grace within your heart is a progressive work. What do I mean? I mean this. Sanctification, which is the Bible’s word for God’s work of making us holy, is a process that goes on throughout our life.
Justification — that is the truth of the Bible according to which God declares that we have been forgiven and pardoned of our sins in Jesus Christ, that the debt of our sin has been removed, not because of any work we have done or could do but only because of Christ. Justification is a completed and a finished work of God. God declares concerning His elect ( Rom. 8 ) that there can be brought no accusation against His elect, against those whom He has justified. It is finished.
But sanctification, once again, that is the work of God in making the child of God holy or, the Bible says, conforming the child of God more and more unto the image of Jesus Christ — this work of God is not over until death. It is progressive, it is on-going.
Are you growing spiritually? Are you growing in the use of your tongue? Are you growing in resisting besetting sins? Are you growing in hope and patience and trust in God? Do you grow in love for God and for His people? Do you grow in new and holy desires? Or are you remaining a child? Are you remaining fickle, gullible? Or are you maturing spiritually? If you are not growing, why not? Are you allowing the impediments of sin to restrict that growth? Are you living in bitterness or anger? Do you live in a lust for the world? Or is it due simply to negligence — you do not give yourself to spiritual things? We must grow in grace.
When Peter gives us this exhortation, but grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, he is doing so as a contrast to something he said before. “But grow in grace.” That means that, in the context (if you read II Peter 3 ), you will find that Peter has been urging upon us the importance of really grasping the truth. He has sought to impress upon us the importance of a careful and reverent study of the holy Scriptures. He said to us in verse 14 that we must be diligent. And he has gone on in verses 15 and 16 to speak to us of the blessing of the holy Scriptures and that there are many wonderful and profound things that we must give ourselves to understand in the Scriptures. And he says that we must do this because there is a danger that we be led astray, that we be led away with the wicked and fall from our own steadfastness. What is needed is a careful study of the Scriptures in order that we are not led away or seduced by errors.
Instead of being led away and seduced by error, the apostle says, we must grow in grace. And the point that is being made is this: the only way to avoid falling in the Christian life is to advance. The only way to avoid slipping back is to go forward.
Let me explain. The Scriptures are very plain that God will preserve the child of God. It is no biblical teaching that a person can be truly saved today and be lost eternally. No, the work of God is a faithful work. The work of God that He begins will, by His grace, be fully done. You can compare Philippians 1:6 to what I just said. Or, the Lord’s words in John 10:26ff . But although that is true, the Scriptures also teach that the Christian life is not static, that the child of God is preserved by God in the way of God working in us perseverance, calling us to be diligent in the things of salvation.
Let me use an example. You remember, as a boy, we used to have these tops, you know, with their string. You wind the string around the top and that top would spin. Well, the tops stood upright on the top of the table as long as it was spinning. But the moment it stopped spinning it fell over. So also we are called to grow in grace, to be diligent with the things of salvation. If you are not growing, you are falling backwards, you are exposed to the error of the wicked, you are exposed to a great fall, which will bring dishonor to your God and shame before men. Grow in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
… the Christian life is not static….
Now, exactly what does that mean? It suggests a few basic truths, does it not, of the Christian life. It suggests, first of all, that being a Christian means that you have received, by grace, a new life, that you have been regenerated. Peter has talked of this in I Peter 1:3 , where he says that we have been begotten again from above. And he goes on in the twentieth verse of the first chapter of the first epistle to say that this life from above is the implanting into us of an incorruptible or undying seed of the life of Christ. If we are to grow in grace, then the first thing that is implied is that the Christian is the product of the grace of God. You have been born again by the grace of God. God has given to you the life of Christ, so that now you are able to see spiritually. You are able to know God and yourself and you have the desire to walk in obedience to God. That was given to you. That was not the product of a decision of your will. The child of God is born from above by the grace of God. And as God has given that life, we are now called to live out of that life of Christ, we are called to develop in that life of Christ. That means that Christian growth is possible only when the life of Christ has first been implanted in our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit, according to the sovereign power and the will of God.
Christianity is not morality. What do I mean? I mean this, that Christianity is not simply teaching men how to live a better life and to improve themselves and to make themselves better through reform. That is not Christianity. The Bible is not a self-improvement book. The Christian life is not simply, “I do this,” and “I keep that,” and “I wear this type of clothes and that’s what makes me a Christian.” Now, do Christians do certain things? Yes. Do they keep certain things (the commandments of God)? Yes. Do they have a certain appearance? Yes. Is that what makes them a Christian? No.
Christian growth is possible only when
the life of Christ has first been implanted
in our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit,
according to the sovereign power and the will of God.
What makes a Christian? A Christian is one who has received the divine life of Jesus Christ freely by the grace of God. He has been given a life different from the world. He has been born again. And out of that life we must grow. You see, Christian growth is vital growth. Let me try to explain that. What is the difference between the growth of a plant and the growth of a pile of sand? If you have a pile of sand in your back yard, you can make that pile of sand grow. You get a shovel and you start throwing more sand on top and you would say, “Look, the pile is growing.” All right. Now, if you have a plant, and that plant is growing, it goes up too. What is the difference? The difference is this. One is vital growth. Christian growth is not simply the piling on top of, the mere external piling on top of certain things. You can grow in the knowledge of geometry, or physics. You pile more information on top of what you know. No, Christian growth is that growth of the life of Christ within, going more and more into every aspect of our life, controlling more and more by the grace of God. It is vital. It is Christ growing more and more in me. Or, put it this way, it is the child of God being conformed, by the hand of God, more and more after the pattern of Jesus Christ, being brought into closer fellowship with God. It is living growth.
That growth is also gradual. And it never reaches perfection. No matter how long we are in this life, we have that old man of sin against which we must struggle day-by-day. And the growth of Christ in us is that gradual work of God. It is very important to stress that today because today spiritual growth is supposed to be this sudden thing. The idea of Christianity that is being peddled by many is this: You can arrive. You go to the right seminar, you go to the right conference, and you finally find it. When you find it and have arrived at it, you are there. You are suddenly at this plateau, this level. That is not true. That is not what God is teaching us in His Word. That does violence to the truth. No, spiritual growth is a gradual growth through pain, through exercise, through eating the right spiritual diet, through exercising what you learned. That is how spiritual growth comes. Does a baby jump into manhood? Does a plant break ground and flower and produce fruit in one day? Of course not. There are stages. And those stages somehow blend into each other. When does the boy become the youth and the youth the man? It is a gradual growth. Holiness in life is not something you receive all at once. But God works that in you through spiritual growth.
Holiness in life is not something you receive
all at once.
Now grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Grow in a deepening of an understanding of the gracious favor that has been shown to you in God. Grow in a knowledge of your own unworthiness, your own sin. Spiritual growth is not that the child of God says, “Ah, sin is gone. It’s absent in my life. I can’t think of the last time I had a bad thought.” That is not spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is more and more that I become aware of just how devilish and just how insidious is my own sinful nature. I begin to see more and more my own sin. And in the light of that sin I see more and more of the wonderful grace that has come to me in Jesus Christ, and more and more I am humbled and desirous to live, no longer after myself, as the apostle says, but to live unto Him who has loved me and who gave Himself for me.
Grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the knowledge of faith. Faith, of course, if a living knowledge. Grow up in the knowledge of Christ.
Of course, this is the work of God. But, as we explained before, it is the work of God whereby He is pleased to work in us. There are means for spiritual growth. We can use the earthly example to guide us. If there is going to growth of a baby or growth in your body, then there must be food and there must be drink. There must be air and nutrients for your physical growth.
So also for spiritual growth. There must be spiritual nutrients. At the top of the list is what the Bible refers to as the means of grace. The means of grace are given to us privately, as every child of God, by the reading of our Bible and prayer. But God has also instituted in the church the essential and the chief means of the preaching of the gospel. So the apostle has said in his first epistle (chapter 2, verse 2), “Desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” You must feed on the Word, and especially that Word as it is preached to you. This is the means that God has granted, has ordained, for spiritual growth. In this way you shall find grace to help you in time of need. Spiritual growth comes, then, by attending to these things: the reading of the Bible, your own prayer, and specifically attending the church diligently on the Lord’s day — being there in a faithful church — and coming under the preaching of the Word of God and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are the means that God has given. In fact God says, in the psalms: “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Do you feel, on Saturday evening, a need for your soul to be fed? If you have been living spiritually, out of Christ, you certainly do. Do you have an appetite, so that on Sunday morning you are eager to go to church to hear the Word of God and you need more food if you are going to live as a child of God in this world?
“Desire the sincere milk of the word,
that ye may grow thereby.”
So you must take heed to the means of grace.
But not only must we have the right food, we must also avoid all that is harmful to growth. That is also true in the physical world. If you want your little boy, your little toddler, to grow, you put away poisons out of your house and you make your house “baby-proof.” If you want your plant to grow, you keep deadly poisons away from that plant. You avoid what is harmful to the life of the child or the plant.
So also for our spiritual life. There are things that are very harmful. It is what the Bible calls “the world.” It is what the Bible says is “friendship with the ungodly.” It is what the Bible refers to as “temptations.” The child of God must put away these temptations from his life — pornography, drinking, greed.
But then there are also our own sins, the sins of our own flesh. Especially destructive of spiritual growth is the sin of gossip (on the phone saying things and telling things and speaking evil judgments about others). The evil tongue does not only do damage to other people. It does damage to ourselves. It stunts, it twists, it perverts spiritual growth. We must have a spiritual atmosphere in our homes. And we must have a spiritual atmosphere in the church which promotes spiritual growth. That means that we must have the love of God as the law of our tongue.
Not only must we have the right food. Not only must we avoid things that are harmful to spiritual growth. But if we are to grow, we must also have rest. We often forget about this one, I think, spiritually. We do not forget about it with a baby. If your baby is going to grow it needs to sleep. But we also, spiritually, if we are to grow, need to have our times of rest. We need to have a quiet mind, to be at rest and peace. What do I mean? I mean this. Sometimes people of God develop pained expressions on their faces and ask “why does God do this to me?” Or the child of God begins to look to himself and wonders if he has prayed correctly enough or done something well enough to be received by God. We must rest. What is that rest? That rest is the great truth that we are justified by grace in Jesus Christ. Rest is this, that I know that I am accepted with God on the basis of what Christ has done, and my future is certain because it rests on nothing but the blood of Jesus Christ. Rest is this, that I know I did not make myself a Christian, that this is the work of Christ, that in Christ is all of my standing before God, all of my redemption, and that He has sworn to be faithful to me. Rest is when we recline in the arms of God. If we are to grow, we must cultivate a restful, peaceful spirit.
Grow in grace that you might stand, that you might not be led away with the error of the wicked, says the apostle Peter. That is why you must grow. But Peter says you must also grow for another reason. Let me read the last part of the verse: “To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” We must grow because in this way God is glorified, glorified in us, by our growing up in the grace of Jesus Christ.
God grant that to you this week. God grant you grace and strength to be diligent, that you grow in understanding of His Word, that you grow in a desire to be as Christ, that you grow in love for Him and for your fellow believer, that you grow in humility, self-denial, and delight in God’s will, that you grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy holy Word, and we pray that it may be applied by Thy Spirit unto our hearts. Remember Thy children in this day. Remember Thy church. Watch over us in Jesus’ name, Amen.