Grow in Grace

2 Peter 3:18
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.

Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners:

1 Timothy 1:15
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

Luke 5:31,32
And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

And we all need saving, because judgment is on the way, and we can’t avoid it:

2 Corinthians 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

But how can we be saved from the judgment to come? Nothing we do can merit salvation. We have to be so thankful that Jesus Christ came into the world to die in the place of all those who will come to Him in faith. All men everywhere are called to repent and believe in Him:

Acts 16:31
....Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved....

But none of us can do it. We can’t believe. We don’t even have faith the size of a mustard seed. We just cannot work up the faith from within ourselves to believe in Christ at all:

Matthew 17:17
Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?

Mark 9:24
….Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

Faith is a gift of God. God grants it as He pleases:

Ephesians 2:8,9
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

So it’s not a question of trying to whip up enough faith in an attempt to believe, because we can’t. The only thing any of us can do is cry to God for mercy:

Luke 18:13
….God be merciful to me a sinner.

If we do call upon the Lord in such desperation, then we have the promise that He will hear us. Praise the Lord, it is possible to be saved from the punishment due to our sins. But only by the sheer grace of God as He grants us the faith that we need:

Jeremiah 29:13
And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

John 6:37
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

Now we can breathe a sigh of relief. We no longer need to worry about future punishment for our sins. In the light of such relief, how then should we live the rest of our lives on this earth?

The Christian is meant to grow. We are not meant to stagnate. We are not meant to just sit back and do nothing, waiting for the Lord to work in us, spiritually maturing us without any effort on our part. Rather we are called to walk worthy of our calling:

Ephesians 4:1
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called….

Colossians 1:10
That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God….

1 Thessalonians 2:12
That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

Upon granting us the faith to believe, the Lord also sends His Holy Spirit who gives us the necessary ability to please Him, which we could never do on our own. We’re not given the Holy Spirit just to feel good. We’re given the Holy Spirit in order to produce spiritual fruit:

John 15:8
Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

Romans 6:22
But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

We now, more than anything, want to live this new life, a holy life, producing the fruit of the Spirit. And here, we are particularly called to grow in two areas:

2 Peter 3:18
….grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ….

And we need both.

We grow in knowledge in two ways. Firstly, by diligently reading our Bibles. The Bible is the Word of God. It is the primary means of our sanctification - our being more and more set apart from the world:

John 17:17
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

As the Christian grows in knowledge from his reading of Scripture, he realises that from his birth the world has been teaching him lies. And he comes to understand that he should no longer believe the man-exalting mindset of the world, but should be nurturing a completely new world-view with God at the centre. So, as he embraces more and more of the truth, he becomes more and more set apart from the world around. That’s the way it should be.

But the Bible is available for everybody to read, and all kinds of people may, for whatever reason, develop an interest in such material. That’s good. It’s always good for anyone to read the Bible. But, without the Holy Spirit to lead them into the truth, together with the bias that we all have in our own hearts against the truth, most, though not all, would end up misinterpreting the Scriptures and go wildly astray. 

But it's not the Bible that is at fault for people going astray, it’s themselves. The Scripture teaches all men truth, if only they read it properly. So, some may actually understand the truth very well. They may know their Bible far better than we ever could. And they can end up believing that a knowledge of the truth is all that is required to become a Christian. They can become very good at debating and fighting for the truth, thinking they are God’s champions on earth to keep the testimony. But bare head-knowledge is nothing:

1 Corinthians 13:2
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

Galatians 6:15
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

There will be many unbelieving, false professors in the church. They may get very high up in the hierarchy of the church. But they never actually embrace for themselves what truth they do understand, or allow God to change them through it in any way. So they will be lost in the end:

Hebrews 10:26,27
For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.

2 Peter 2:21,22
For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

Judas preached the truth:

Mark 6:12
And they [the twelve, including Judas] went out, and preached that men should repent. 

He was even given special powers by the Lord:

Mark 6:13
And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.

But he was never changed in his heart:

Acts 1:25
….Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.

John 17:12
….none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.

The devils believe more truth than many ministers:

James 2:19
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

Luke 4:34
Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God.

Acts 16:17
The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.

And we shouldn’t marvel at this, because Satan himself can transform himself into an angel of light:

2 Corinthians 11:13-15
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

Sadly, most theology colleges in the West today are full of such unbelievers. They will not, indeed cannot, emphasise the one thing needful:

John 3:3
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

And consequently, they will emphasise good works, self-help, political involvement, an intellectual knowledge - anything except the truth of man’s utter inability to help himself and His need of the new birth. And genuine Christians who are still young in the faith, may sign up for courses in these colleges, not realising any of this. But, if the Holy Spirit is working in their hearts, they will eventually come to realise their mistake and distance themselves from it all. 

This brings us to a second way in which we need to “grow….in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” We need to grow to know Him personally, in a real living relationship. When we become a Christian, Christ Himself comes to dwell within us:

Galatians 4:19
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,

Colossians 1:27
….Christ in you, the hope of glory….

And this means we always have a channel of communication open with Him through prayer:

Ephesians 6:18
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints….

1 Thessalonians 5:17
Pray without ceasing.

Philippians 4:6,7
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

We live our lives being guided by Him. He shows us the way in which we should go. We no longer live for ourselves. We no longer make our own decisions:

Galatians 2:20
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

This completely sets us apart from any unbeliever with a mere intellectual knowledge of the truth. He cannot understand this. And there’s something else he won’t be able to understand too. Not only are we to grow “in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” but we’re also called to grow “in grace.” 

The Lord in His mercy to us has given us the faith we need. We are now called to add to that faith:

2 Peter 1:5
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

The things we are to add are all fruit of the Spirit, which only the Holy Spirit can give:

Galatians 5:22,23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance….

Ephesians 5:9
….For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth….

And we’re told that:

2 Peter 1:8
For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We should be fruitful, growing in all these graces. But that implies, sadly, that it is possible to be a fruitless Christian. The fruitless Christian will have the root. He will have been truly saved by the Lord and born-again in the heart. He will grow for a time. But:

Mark 4:19
….the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.

He’ll get to heaven in the end. The Lord is so gracious. After all, why should He save any of us? But the Lord is not going to be happy with any of His people in such a backslidden state, and He’ll try to wake them up through various providences. That’s not the kind of life we are called to live:

1 Corinthians 3:15
If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

This doesn’t mean we can become a Christian just to get our ticket to heaven, then deliberately not do anything for the Lord. That’s not what’s happening here. God will not hear anyone who isn’t genuine. These backsliders genuinely came to the Lord at first, and maybe grew to some extent, but various things distracted them. That should be a warning to us. We are called to cast aside the thorns - everything that hinders our growth - and make sure we’re sown on good, clear ground:

Mark 4:20
And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.

We should be finished with glorifying ourselves. We’ve done plenty of that in the past: 

1 Peter 4:3
For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries….

Only when we are producing good fruit will all the glory go to the Lord:

To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.”