Growing as a Christian - James McManus
My wife and I have 3 children - two daughters, 12 years and 8 years old, and a son, 4 years old. We love them all very dearly, and only what is the very best for them. Part of that means, as a Christian father, I want to see them grow in the Christian faith. They were all baptized as infants - even better than that, they were all baptized as ARP babies ;) Many of us understand that the sacrament of infant baptism doesn’t save, and we still want to hear that testimony of faith from those who were baptized. But, also part of that sacrament is the teaching of the Christian faith to those covenant children, and that is something my wife and I take seriously. We WANT our 3 children to grow as much spiritually as they are physically, emotionally and mentally. So, we emphasis the means of grace with them and are thrilled to see the Lord blessing this ministry with our family.
I find it interesting that at the end of his 2nd epistle, Peter ends with this very simple exhortation, 2 Peter 3:18, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ … “ If you are familiar with this epistle, you know that there is some discussion about who Peter was writing to … was it to the Christians in Asia Minor who were being persecuted? Or was it to another group who were being threatened by false teaching from within the church? I believe that no matter where you land on this, it is still eye-opening to think about how Peter chooses to end this letter - it’s all about growth.
We know Peter as part of the leadership of the 12 disciples, and then in the early church. It was Peter who was close to Jesus, and who raced John to the empty tomb that first Easter morning. It was Peter who figured prominently in the early church. And, it seems that this epistle was written near the end of his life. I find that in this exhortation is the near 30+ plus years of wisdom that the Holy Spirit had impressed on his mind and heart … that what is so important in the Christian life is that growth.
But, it’s not just any growth, is it? No, it’s specific growth - growth in grace, growth in knowledge.
Growth in grace is growing, in part, to be more like Jesus. When we think about John in his opening prologue, saying that the word, the logos, is Jesus Christ, who is full of grace, we know that this doesn’t mean that Jesus was divinely filled with grace, like a cup is filled with water. Rather, it means that Jesus Christ IS grace - He is the embodiment of the grace of God. To know Jesus Christ is to know grace, and vice-versa. So, to grow in grace is to grow more in Christ-likeness. It is to grow in sanctification, which is God’s will for His people (1 Thess. 4.3). It is to die more and more onto our sins so we can live more and more unto God’s righteousness.
Growth in knowledge is growing in knowing more about our God. Of course, that can only come through reading His word and prayer and worship. The issue is WHAT we do with that knowledge. I recently saw a tweet (and shared it) that said “never trust a theologian who doesn’t go to church”. There’s a lot of wisdom in that. Knowledge of God that just stays in the head doesn’t do much good, does it? That knowledge needs to make its way down to the heart, so that our faith is grown and our lives are lived more and more for the glory of God and His joy. It’s not just book knowledge, but a knowledge that is seen in how we now live for God.
When we read Peter’s life and epistles, this exhortation shouldn’t surprise us - we see that he had to learn this the hard way. He wasn’t alway gracious, wasn’t always growing in Christ-likeness, and, at times, had a head knowledge that never affected his heart of flesh. What I think we find at the end of 2nd Peter is an older, grayer, wiser Peter who was able to take all of his understanding, knowledge and experience and pass along the wisdom that what is best for the Christian life and faith is continued growth in grace and knowledge. It is a growth that leads from milk to meat, from infant steps to a more mature walk. It is a growth that ultimately glorifies God in all ways.
What a wonderful bit of wisdom for us to adopt for ourselves, family and church. Each of those areas in our lives needs growth - we are sinners, we stumble, we fall, we aren’t always growing as we ought. The same is true for our families and our churches. I do believe that the “heyday” of the American Christian Church is quickly fading out of view in our rearview mirrors, and what lies ahead of us, our families and our churches is a darker time of trials and tribulations. How do we prepare? How do we adapt? How do we survive? We go to that wisdom of Peter, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ … “ so that we continue to grow in Christ-likeness and life-changing knowledge. That was Peter’s wisdom for the trials and tribulations of his original readers. It is a wisdom that is still fit for 2021 and the 21st century. So, brothers and sisters, let each of us seek then to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ … “