Except for his standard greetings in the two New Testament epistles that bear his name, the Apostle Peter does not have a lot to say about grace (“Grace and peace be multiplied unto you….). But his last recorded words, 2 Peter 3:18 are pregnant with meaning: “But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever.”
A student once asked Horatius Bonar how he could tell if a Christian was growing. Dr. Bonar replied, “In proportion to his growth in grace he would elevate his Master, talk less of what he was doing and become smaller in his own esteem, until, like the morning star, he faded away before the rising sun.”
Pablo Casals was considered the premier cellist of the first half of the 20th century. He was still playing in his mid-90’s when a young person asked the artist why, at the age of 95, he would still practice six hours a day, to which the master replied, “I think I am making progress.”
There are no short cuts to growth; it must be systematic, disciplined, purposeful and practiced whether in the arena of sports or the stage of fine arts or in the realm of spiritual maturity. Peter urges the scattered saints to whom he was writing, many of them no doubt displaced due to persecution who, if they had chosen to, might have found a ready excuse to put spiritual maturity on hold as they were trying to maintain and eke out a bare existence, to grow in grace and in the knowledge of their Lord and Savior. If that was Peter’s message to those beaten down first century saints, it is still a message that resonates world-wide in this 21st century. So, the question is, “how does one mature in his faith and in his following of the Lord Jesus Christ?” It is vital in answering that good question, to follow these basic steps:
- Desire the Milk of God’s Word. Peter had already urged this upon his readers in his first epistle, chapter 2 verse 2: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby.” In order to mature as an earnest disciple of the Lord Christ, one must desire the milk of His Word. Milk doctrines are comparable to the nourishment that an infant receives from its mother’s milk (or from a healthy infant formula or cereal). In Hebrews 5:12ff., the author, writing to Jewish converts who had been saved long enough that they should have been teaching new born converts the basics of the faith, says that their spiritual growth had been stunted so much so that they had need of milk and not strong meat in their spiritual diet. They were characterized by a lack of skill in handling God’s Word so that they were likened to babes who, spiritually, could not discern between good and evil. Immediately, in Hebrews 6:1, the writer speaks of the “first principles” or foundational doctrines of the faith, categorizing them as those having to do with repentance from dead works and of faith towards God (salvation or soteriological); doctrines of baptisms and laying on of hands (church matters or ecclesiology) and doctrines having to do with the resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgement (last things or eschatology). These are all milk doctrines and are very important, but are “first principles/milk” from which a new born babe in Christ should eventually move on to stronger “meat” doctrines. An example of meat doctrines can be found in the rest of the book of Hebrews beginning in Hebrews 6:13. So, step one in spiritual growth is to acquire an appetite for the sincere milk of the Word, allowing for the assimilation of this spiritual nourishment, then growing and gradually moving from the first principles of the doctrines of faith to “strong meat” doctrines.
- Digest the meat of God’s Word, learning how to use God’s Word skillfully so that you can discern between both what is good and what is evil, what God approves and what God disapproves of and why. The mature believer will know what holiness is. He will have a continually increasing faith, and an active prayer life. He is able to withstand the fiery darts of the wicked one because of the defense of the shield of faith. He possesses a values system that is not materialistically oriented. He is careful to keep himself unspotted from the world, and his life manifests the fruit of the Spirit and he is walking in the Spirit. He has cultivated a love for the Word, a need for and desire to worship and to be involved in the edification of Christ’s church. He enjoys messages on the last days and end times, but is not obsessed with them. His spiritual sensitivities are trained to detect false teachings as he has learned and loved the genuine truths as taught by the Holy Spirit. In a word, the strong in grace maturing believer is regularly digesting the meat of God’s Word and in the growing process is maturing as fruit is borne, then more fruit and finally much fruit to God’s glory.
- Delve into the ministry of God’s Word. He loves evangelizing the lost through every possible means such as personal witness, tract distribution, missionary endeavors and internet communications. Besides his evangelizing efforts, he is faithfully edifying the church as he ministers his spiritual gift(s) to build up His body, the church.
As has been said, this growing in grace is a process and it does not come to pass in a day or week or month or maybe even a year, but steadily in time. A student asked the President of his school whether he could take a shorter course other than the one prescribed. “Oh, yes,” the President replied, “but then it depends on what you want to be. When God wants to make an oak, He takes a hundred years, but when He wants to make a squash, He takes six months.” (Copied, A.H. Strong)
“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” (I Cor. 3:1,2)