There are two ways to get to the top of an oak tree. You can climb or sit on an acorn. Too many Christians are trying the latter method in their approach to Christian growth. The purpose of these lessons is to help you get off your acorn and exert yourself in Growing with Christ.
The Apostle Peter did a lot of growing. In his early ministry with Christ he blew hot and cold. He was up and down like a yoyo. "You'll never wash my feet," he protested to Jesus. Then when Jesus explained that refusing to receive ministry excluded him from being a disciple, he flip-flopped to the other extreme saying, "Not just my feet then, but my hands and head" (John 13:7-9). I'll follow you though all the others forsake you," he blustered. Then a few days later we find him denying three times with an oath that he even knew the Lord (Matthew 26:33-35).
Peter was a slow learner. He suffered from Spiritual ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Christ could probably have finished his ministry in two and a half years if he didn't have to keep explaining things to Peter. But though he was slow, he learned his lesson well and eventually earned his name the rock. At the end of his life the last recorded words he wrote were, "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen! (2 Peter 3:18).
These final words from a man who had been through a number of painful growing experiences speak of two important ways in which Christians grow.
All true spiritual growth begins with divine grace, not human effort. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not good advice on how to try harder, but good news that God's grace reaches losers who have tried and failed.
Grace is unmerited favor. There is no way you can deserve it or earn it or bring it about anymore than you can deserve the taste of strawberries or earn good looks, or bring about your own birth.
A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain on a fresh mowed lawn is grace. Somebody loving you is grace, and so is loving someone else. Have you ever tried to love somebody?
The unique feature of Christian faith is the doctrine that people are saved by grace.
Grace means you don't have to work your tail off to be loved by God. And if you do, you may have trouble being loved by your wife or husband or children.
Grace says: "Here's your life.
Grace says: "Here's your world.
You can't improve the content of grace, but you can improve its container. What you are is God's gift to you. But what you become is your gift to God. And when you have become all God intended, by grace you will look back on it with profound thanksgiving.
Growth in grace is essential to life. There are many imitations but no substitute for grace. Instead of God's new wine, religious adolescents try to substitute a spiritual Pepsi that often loses it fizz three hours after it is uncapped. Like the dreamer who lost his vision and inspiration, they try to live on the experiences of the past. Some Christians seem to be saved, sanctified and petrified.
All natural growth eventually ends in decay. The beautiful trees in your yard will someday become firewood, sawdust, and compost. All natural growth ends in final decay. But growth in grace ends in glory and immortality.
Growth in grace is not just gradually giving up sin, but becoming by grace what Christ is by nature. God never demands that you "repent a little bit." You can't find that in your Bible. Your growth is stunted whenever you pray in effect, "Lord, make me pure, chaste and holy but not yet, please!"
Give your life to God. He can do more with it than you can. Yourself in your own hands is a pain and problem. But yourself in the hands of God is a power and a possibility.
Ruth Carter Stapleton's spiritual advisor gave her words of wisdom when he said, "Remember two things, Ruth. First, God will do everything you cannot do in order that you might live. Second, God will do nothing you can do in order that you might grow." Grow in the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The second part of spiritual growth of which Peter speaks is Growth in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior. There are two ways to grow in knowledge: knowledge about him and knowledge of him.
Grow in knowledge about him. Education is what's left over when you subtract what you've forgotten from what you've learned. Learn to drink at the fountain of knowledge--not just gargle. Unless you know more about Jesus Christ today than you did this time last year, you forfeit your claim to be his disciple. Disciple literally means "learner." The most important body of information for a Christian is the story of Jesus.
Will Rogers said, "Everybody's ignorant, only in different subjects." The one subject on which no Christian should be ignorant is the life and ministry of Christ.
Because Jesus is an historical person, there is much you may learn about him. It is important to acquire factual information about him which may be rigorously tested for accuracy. Our theological seminaries must engage in historical, critical Bible Study.
But the church is more than a Biblical research society. Growth in knowledge about Christ is essential, but not sufficient for your spiritual welfare. It is not enough to merely know about Christ.
The best theological book in my library is not as good as one the devil himself could write. But for all his information, he is still the devil.
I believe, for example, in the literal virgin birth of Christ, but that doesn't make me any better or worse a person than believing any other piece of historical data. Neither the devil nor I get much credit for what we believe about Jesus or God (James 2:19).
Grow in knowledge of him. The most important kind of knowledge is not information, but relationship. We are talking about the difference between knowing someone and knowing about someone. You can know about Socrates, but you can never know him. On the other hand, you can know personally the risen Christ. He not only died to be your Savior, he arose to be your friend and companion. Your knowledge of him can be both factual and relational.
Your growth in knowledge is never complete until you know the love of Christ which passes knowledge (Ephesians 3:19), the peace of God which passes understanding (Philippians 4:7), and the ways of God which are past finding out (Romans 11:33).
So get off your acorns! Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen!