A young friend messaged her pastor and me this morning asking for our counsel. She wants to speed up her spiritual growth, she said, and asks what books she should be reading and what preachers she should be listening to.
The pastor gave her excellent suggestions on books and preachers, so I took a different route. I said, “If you want to move your spiritual growth to warp speed, I suggest reading large blocks of Scripture at one sitting.” In doing so, I said, she would see lessons, learn insights, and experience blessings she had missed before by the kind of piecemeal intake most of us practice regarding God’s Word.
When the Apostle Peter was concluding his second epistle, he counseled, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” (II Peter 3:18)
I take it that the grace of Jesus Christ is one thing and the knowledge of Him is another. But I also find them to be complementary, partners or colleagues in the lives of believers, if you will. The more we grow in His grace, the better we know Him.
As the old song says about love and marriage, “you can’t have one without the other.”
When the disciples first learned of Jesus, they must have been puzzled, then interested, and then attracted to Him. Bit by bit they were learning of Him. The day the Lord Jesus walked by and called them to follow Him, some from their fishing boats, one from his tax books, and others from various pursuits, they began to experience His grace.
“I am so honored; He called me as a disciple!” They were celebrating His grace.
Then, day after day as they walked the hills of Galilee in His steps and saw His works and heard His teaching, they learned more of His heart, His mind, and His agenda. They were appreciating the knowledge of Jesus.
Over the next three year period, the disciples failed Him, disappointed Him, embarrassed themselves, and most eventually forsook Him. Each time, however, He forgave them and loved them and patiently went on with the training.
That was grace.
By the time Jesus ascended into Heaven and left the earthly work with the disciples, they felt they knew Him pretty well. Every day had brought new challenges, each miracle had taught new lessons, every setback presented new opportunities.
That is knowledge of Him.
No wonder Peter’s one wish for His people was that they would grow in this dual direction: the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The burden of every godly pastor and mature teacher is the lack of spiritual growth of their people.
Dwarfism runs rampant in the churches.
Spiritual pygmies occupy places of leadership in thousands of churches.
In numerous congregations, spiritual midgets so outnumber the grownups that the normal believers appear to be freaks.
It’s not a new problem, unfortunately.
“We have a great deal to say…and it is difficult to explain, since you have become slow to understand. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basics of God’s revelation.” (Hebrews 5:11-12)
As a new 7th grade student at the junior high school, I met Raymond. Older than the rest of us, it turned out he was repeating the class for the third time. Raymond attended class spasmodically and to the best of my knowledge, never did the assignments. His grades were consistently failing. If that bothered him, we couldn’t tell.
When our class was promoted to the 8th grade, Raymond moved up with us. Apparently, the school had given up on teaching him anything and so long as he caused no problem, it was fine with the administration. The following year, even though he had not made a passing grade on anything, he moved into the 9th grade alongwith our class. Sometime that year, Raymond dropped out of school altogether and never returned.
Our churches are heavily populated by Raymond’s spiritual clones. They are undermotivated to study, come irregularly, have no desire to learn anything, haven’t grown in years, and feel their main task is to show up for class from time to time, as though that will accomplish something by itself.
One of the best things that could happen to the Raymond-Clones among us is to get good and dissatisfied with our spiritual lives.
Call it a “divine discontent.”
“I don’t like where I am spiritually. I’m not satisfied with my level of understanding, I don’t know my Bible, and I could not begin to defend my faith if my life depended on it.”
You want to grow.
Good. God wants that for you and will honor that desire.
Your spiritual growth–my spiritual growth–will need to be in both these directions: the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
GROW IN GRACE.
You were saved by His grace. That’s how you first became acquainted with His grace. If you are like the rest of us, you were overwhelmed at His goodness, that He would die on the cross for a hell-deserving rascal like you.
The more of your unworthiness you realize, the more of His grace you will appreciate.
Someone has said, “He who has little thoughts of sin will never have big thoughts of God.”
That’s something of what Paul meant when he said, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Romans 5:20)
It’s so easy to misread that statement of Paul’s and come to an erroneous conclusion (one he actually addressed in that Romans passage, incidentally) that we should sin more in order to receive more grace.
You and I have sinned quite enough, thank you, to receive all the grace God could ever pour out upon us.
To grow in the grace of Jesus means to come to realize more and more what He did in saving you. That means learning more of your unworthiness, how “in your flesh dwells no good thing,” how you deserved the worst punishment possible, and how “Jesus paid it all.”
The people I’ve known who have been the most ardent in their service and tenderest in their love for Him had the clearest understanding of the rottenness of their nature and the greatness of His forgiveness in saving them.
Those who have been forgiven much love much. Those who have been forgiven little, likewise love little. (See Luke 7:36-50 where the woman who anoints Jesus illustrates this beautifully.)
How do we grow in grace? We yield more and more of our lives to Jesus. He increases in our minds, our hearts, our world, while we become less and less. We love Him more and more.
GROW IN KNOWLEDGE.
We are to grow not just in knowledge, but specifically in the knowledge of Jesus our Lord and Savior.
We are to get to know Jesus better and better.
That happens in union with our growth in grace. The more He comes to mean to us, the more we understand Him.
We might expect that in his epistles, the Apostle Peter would drop in little boasts about how well he knew Jesus. After all, he had been with the Lord from the beginning and early on had been the chief of the apostles. No one knew Him better, presumably. Peter had been in on the most private of sessions with the Master–the Mount of Transfiguration, in Jairus’ house when his daughter was raised, and beside the Lord in Gethsemane when He prayed and was arrested.
So, why doesn’t he?
Some have said it was because Peter did not write these epistles.
I suggest it’s because the grace of the Lord Jesus balanced the knowledge of Him in Peter’s mind and heart.
Knowledge suggests more and more of Jesus; grace implies less and less of me.
Had Peter boasted of how much he knew of Jesus and how well acquainted they were, he would also have been obligated to tell of his failures, his faithlessness, and his dumb statements to the Lord.
David the Psalmist understood the proper juxtapositioning of these two forces (more of Jesus, less of me). Notice this from the 103rd Psalm:
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.”
He knows the Lord and celebrates His love, His forgiveness, His compassion.
Then, David says:
“For He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.
“As for man, his days are like grass–
“He blooms like a flower of the field;
“When the wind passes over it, it vanishes, and its place is no longer known.”
“But from eternity to eternity the Lord’s faithful love is toward those who fear Him.”
He knows the Lord’s grace, that He gives His blessings to humble, clay vessels.
As an 11-year-old child, I began to experience both the grace and knowledge of my earthly father.
That summer, while my mother and the six of us children were vacationing in Alabama, we received news from West Virginia that the coal mines were laying off workers and Dad was now jobless. We would be moving in with our maternal grandmother in Alabama.
That was quite a shock. It hurt not being able to say goodbye to classmates and teachers. In a couple of weeks, a truck arrived with our furniture and clothing. Life was changing for us for all time.
Since the mines in Alabama were not hiring, Dad–who had a strong work ethic–went to work on grandma’s farm which had lain dormant for the past several years. He pruned apple trees in the orchard and borrowed a neighbor’s mule to begin planting a crop. That’s when I began learning my father for the first time in my life.
Throughout that summer and each of several summers to follow, we children worked in the fields and orchards alongside our dad. We talked and laughed and told stories. We listened and dreamed and learned and grew. In our West Virginia home, we had lived in a mining camp where there were no chores for children. In Alabama, we worked as hard as the adults and alongside them.
That’s how we came to know our dad.
Day by day, we came to know what he was really like. In time we could anticipate his moods and predict his plans for us. We had lknown and oved him before, but from a distance. Now that love was deeper and based on experience. We knew him and came to like what we knew.
I see this as something of a parallel in our spiritual growth. As we walk with Jesus and yield more and more to Him every day, we come to know Him better and better. As a result, we grow. We become more fruitful, more useful, and more effective for Him.
In the opening of this epistle–the Second Epistle of Peter–he writes:
“May grace and peace be multiplied to you through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” (1:2)
“For His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness, through the knowledge of HIm who called us….” (1:3)
And, then, after enumerating a number of godly qualities such as faith, goodness, knowledge, and self-control, he says, “For if these qualities are yours and keep increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:8)
Sound like anyone you know?
Tired of it? Divinely discontent with where you are in your Christian life these days?
Good. It’s time to begin growing.