Growth in Christ
Scripture: II Peter 3
Text: II Peter 3:18
Sermon by Rev. James Reaves
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Kelowna, British Columbia, 2004
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 19, No. 6
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Here in the Okanagan Valley we expect things to grow. Trees grow. Bushes grow, and flowering shrubs grow. Plants of every description grow. Just add water and you will get growth. I am amazed at the growth of the three trees we planted in our yard when we first came to Kelowna. If things don’t grow, we get concerned and begin to wonder. What is the matter?
We expect growth as a matter of course. And God, when He plants life in the heart of a believer, likewise expects growth to occur. God expects Christians to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact in II Peter 2:18, God commands us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We should all be growing in our Christian faith and life. Are we? Are you growing? Today I invite you to turn with me to II Peter 3:18 to take up the subject of growth in Christ. As we look at this text, let us examine:
I. The necessity of growth,
II. The areas of growth, and
III. The means of growth.
To begin, I want to emphasize the necessity of growth in Christ. God, speaking through Peter, commands us to grow in Christ in this verse. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” It is imperative that we grow in Christ. It is not an option reserved for super-spiritual people. It is a necessity that God places on each and every Christian. Growth is a characteristic of life. That’s true of plant life, animal life, and spiritual life. If it is alive, it grows. When we repent of our sins and come to faith in the Lord Jesus, God gives us life. In fact, God gives life that we might repent and believe. Unbelievers, as the Bible tells us, are dead in trespasses and sins, but believers are alive in Christ. Being alive, we are expected to grow.
Something is seriously wrong if Christians do not grow. I remember a little fellow in our congregation in Virden, Manitoba. He was the same age as our son John, and while our son John was growing physically like a weed, this little fellow remained the same height year after year. His parents became very concerned. We expect our children to grow.
But where is the same expectation for growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ in Christians? Never mind the people around you. How about yourself? Have you been growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ? Do you expect to grow in His grace and knowledge? In I Peter 3:18, God commands you to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. It is a commandment that we all need to take more seriously. Growth is a necessity in the healthy Christian life.
This commandment calls for active participation on our part. Think of how we work to promote growth in the plants we have in our gardens. We see that they are well-watered. We see that they are well-nourished with fertilizer. We see that they are unencumbered with weeds. A beautiful or productive garden takes activity on our part. And the same is true in our Christian growth and experience.
There are things we can do to promote this growth, and I will deal with the means of growth very shortly. But first let me turn your attention to the areas in which we are told to grow in our text.
The two areas in which we are commanded to grow are the areas of grace and knowledge, the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me begin with the knowledge of our Lord and Savior. To know Christ, we must first know about Him, and for this God has given to us the Bible — the whole Bible. We turn naturally to the gospels, for they give us the story of His life on earth. But let us not stop there. We can learn a great deal about Christ from the epistles and from the whole New Testament, but there is more yet. The whole Bible makes Christ known to us. I am reminded of those two men who were walking the road to Emmaus on the day of the resurrection. They were discussing between themselves the events of that weekend when they were joined by the risen Christ Himself. It was obvious to Jesus that they simply had not understood what. He had been doing. So Jesus undertook to add to their knowledge of Him. Luke tells us, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Jesus took them all the way back to Genesis to begin filling them in with knowledge about Himself. He took them through all the prophets. He took them through the whole Old Testament to increase their knowledge about him.
If we want to grow in the knowledge of Jesus, we must grow in our knowledge of the Bible. But that is not the full burden of our text. While it is essential to know about Christ, it is every bit as important to know Him personally. Paul expressed the desire of his heart in Philippians 3:10, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Paul wanted to experience Christ. Paul wanted to live Christ, to have communion and fellowship with Him. In that same book of Philippians he says, “For to me, to live is Christ.” He wanted to know what Christ could accomplish through him, Paul. He wanted to learn of the power of Christ at work in Him. He wanted to know something of how Christ handled suffering by his own experience.
This puts a completely new dimension into knowing Jesus. He wanted to personally experience Christ. That is what it means to grow in the knowledge of Christ. Are you growing? Are you making progress? We must grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We must also grow in His grace. Christ pours His grace into and through our lives by His Holy Spirit. To grow in grace is to have the Holy Spirit working increasingly in our hearts and lives. The Holy Spirit works in our lives as we order and direct them according to His Word. The more we do this, the more we grow in grace. Of course, the Holy Spirit works effectively, and as we grow in grace, our lives become more Christ-like. More of the fruit of the Spirit is found in our behavior. More love, more joy, more peace, more longsuffering, more kindness, more goodness, more faithfulness, more gentleness, and more self-control.
When you look at it that way, we all have a lot of growing in grace to do! A full-grown Christian will be the most wonderful person on the block, the best of neighbors, the very salt of the earth. Most of us are not there yet. Most of us are not even close. Let’s face it, we all have a lot of growing to do.
I think it is important also to say a word here about balance. We are to grow in both grace and knowledge. To put it another way. we are to grow in both head and heart. We are not to be all head as Christians and resemble Mr. Potato Head. Nor are we to be all heart either. Head and heart ought to grow in proportion to one another.
Sometimes I think as Reformed Christians we do well in growing in knowledge, but fall short in growing in grace. We become all head and no heart. Whereas some of my Pentecostal friends have grown in grace and heart, but have come up short in knowledge. They become all heart and no head. Now I know that is speaking in very broad generalities, but there is enough truth in the statement to give it bite. We can’t afford to be either all heart or all head. Both are monstrosities. We need to grow both in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We cannot afford to be without either grace or knowledge. We must grow as balanced Christians. That is the commandment that God has placed in this text for today, and every one of us needs to take it seriously.
We have before us the necessity of growing. We have considered the areas in which we need to grow, both in grace and in knowledge. I want to turn now to some of the means of growth, and I acknowledge my indebtedness to Dr. Marten Lloyd-Jones for the help he provided in this respect.
What can we do to promote this growth in grace and knowledge to which our text calls us? First and foremost, I would turn your attention to the nourishment our Lord has provided for our growth. It is two-fold, and includes both the Word and the sacraments. I have already spoken of the place the Word holds in our growing in the knowledge of Christ, but it is just as important for our growth in the grace of Christ. The Christian must learn to feed upon the Word of God. Peter instructs new Christians, as newborn babes, to desire “the pure milk of the Word” that they “may grow thereby.” Then as the Christian matures, he can start digging into the strong meat of the Word. There is plenty of food in God’s book for every believer to grow, but it does us no good until we sit down to take it in.
The Scriptures put great stress on the preaching of the Word. One of our great advantages as Reformed Christians is that we have two preaching services every Lord’s Day, at which we can nourish our souls for growth. Make sure you are there, and don’t miss a meal!
Ever since 1456, Christians have been able to supplement a good diet of steady preaching with personal Bible-reading. Is there a home represented here without a Bible? I think not. But do we spend time reading the Bible in our homes? It is a great aid for growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ, but it does us no good unless we read it. We also have Bible studies and catechism classes in our yearly program. This is more opportunity for nourishment. But whatever you do, nourish your soul or you will never grow in the grace and knowledge of our Savior.
And don’t forget the sacraments either. They are supplementary to the Word as nourishment for the soul. The Lord has provided well for our growth. It is now up to us to take our nourishment.
Secondly, if we want to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, we must learn to avoid everything harmful to the life and growth of the soul. If you do not protect an infant from the infectious fevers and diseases of this world, he will not grow. If you don’t get the weeds out of your garden, you wont grow much of what you want. It is exactly the same with the Christian life. If you want to grow, you must learn to avoid everything that is harmful to your spiritual life. I won’t take the time to go into a lot of detail on this point. You should know what inhibits spiritual growth. If we are friends of the world, we cannot be friends with God.
I find watching television does not help me grow in grace very much. With all its insinuations and suggestions, with all its advertisements that appeal to what is low in us, with the prominence it gives to what is opposed to the life of Christ, it is not much help.
The same is true of much that is available to be read. The amusements and pleasures of this world are no help to your growth. It is for Christians to work these things out for themselves. We know what hinders our communion with God. What stands between us and God needs to be cut out. We should have no time for it. We must keep ourselves in an atmosphere that is not a hindrance to the life of the soul, that does not stunt our growth.
Thirdly, if we want to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, we need exercise. Paul tells us in I Timothy 4:7, “exercise yourself to godliness.” It is not enough to have the right food. It is not enough to avoid what is harmful. If there is to be healthy growth, life must be exercised. Take a young child or a young animal. If you confine them and prevent them from moving about, their growth will be hampered. They will not develop as they should.
The same holds true in the Christian life. You must put into practice what you claim to believe. It means practicing Christian living, doing the things that we are instructed to do in the Word of God. You can’t learn to play the piano unless you practice. You can’t learn to drive a car unless you practice. You can’t really learn any skill unless you practice. And you can’t expect to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ unless you practice doing what He calls you to do in His Word. Practice self control. Practice being gentle. Practice doing deeds of kindness, and the many other instructions of God’s Word, and you will find yourself growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
Fourthly, if we want to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, we will need rest. Now that may sound strange to you, but think about it. Newborn children need a lot of rest, and in their younger years they still need rest. Rest is vital for growth, and that applies in the realm of the spirit too. You may be reading your Bible very diligently, but if your mind is not at rest and peace, you will not grow. There are some Christians who are always agitated over some question or other. They can’t understand why God allows this or that, and they want to figure everything out. Their minds are never at rest.
We must always remember that we are justified by faith, and we live by faith. We do not make ourselves Christians; God does it. When we cannot understand things, we must learn to say, “I don’t know how it works but I do believe that God works out all things for the good of His people.” And then rest in that confidence. We must learn to rest and recline in the arms of God, and believe where we cannot understand. Without cultivating that aspect of rest and a quiet mind there will be no true growth.
One other principle of growth that Dr. Lloyd-Jones mentions is discipline. We must be disciplined if we expect to grow. Having recognized all these other things, we must be disciplined and regular in carrying them out. We must not read our Bibles and pray spasmodically. We must do it constantly. We must avoid what is evil all the time, being mindful that there is no such thing as a spiritual holiday. We must be regular and constant. And we need to do self-examination. Am I making progress?
These five principles will do much in helping you to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. Realizing that God has given to us the gift of life, realizing that certain conditions are essential to the preservation and increase of life, we must practice them. And as we do so, we shall find that we are growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Yes, growth is necessary in our Christian experience. Scripture commands us to grow in Christ. And it commands us to grow in two areas, both in grace and in knowledge, and those in proportion to one another. And there are means by which we can promote this growth. Growth needs to be nourished. We need to avoid those things that inhibit growth. We need exercise to grow. We need rest to grow. And we need to be disciplined to grow. I conclude exactly where I began, with the word of II Peter 3:18. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Amen.