PART 1 | PART 2
For the month of July my family and I have been visiting relatives in Port Alberni, BC Canada. It has been a tremendously fruitful time of catching up with some (unfortunately not all) loved ones, mentors, and friends that we miss seeing and being with. There have also been opportunities for reconciliation with some individuals where needed. I have been blessed with the grace upon grace the Lord has shown to my family.
While here, I have been wrestling with Peter’s words:
Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. - 2 Peter 3:18
I first came into Port Alberni a young, immature, irrational, and emotional wreck. I hope that a maturing has taken place in my heart that is evident in my relationship with the Lord and others.
How do we know we have been growing in grace and knowledge? How do we tell if the growth is real or just a veneer of maturity?
Part 1 sought to explain what false growth is, merely a dependence upon intellectual prowess and legalistic obligations that only seek to make one’s appearance in front of others look appealing but rotting inside.
In some ways, it is simpler to define growth and maturity by what it is not. If I sat here and gave a list of what maturity looks like, then I have done nothing else but rehash legalistic expectations. I can’t tell you how much reading, praying, serving, tithing, or outreach one must achieve to reach the next growth level.
Some could say that we must look at the fruit of an individual, reading, praying, service and such as indicators of ones maturity. The issue I have is that fruit can be faked. I did it, and at times continue to fake it all the time. I know how to read, I know how to pray, and I know the right words that will convince you of my “growth.” The people that really know where I am at spiritually are those I meet with in community (bible study), the men I meet with in discipleship, and the elders at Redeemer Fellowship that are willing to ask me the probing questions to see my heart.
So am I saying that I don’t know what true growth is? No. I am saying that no one can truly see your growth except you and the Lord. Sometimes God is gracious and uses mentors and relationships to point out your blind spots or to encourage you in your progress, but the reality is that you know for yourself if you’re actually growing.
So, to bring it back to the original question, how do we know we are growing in grace and knowledge? One word, sanctification, which can be defined as:
That gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him to perform good works. - Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 532
Berkhof gives us a framework to help define what sanctification is and what to personally look for as you consider and honestly assess if true growth is evident in your life.
A Work of God
Right away we see that sanctification begins with the Holy Spirit. Any other starting point is idolatry. Whether it is our own hard effort or the work of another, it moves devotion and glory off of the One True God who delivers and sanctifies and looks to another for assistance. They could be good resources, whether scripture, sacraments, or God’s providence; yet these in and of themselves are not what sanctify. They may (and are) means of sanctification but are powerless themselves without the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
To focus on our own efforts as a starting point places our spiritual formation and growth on our own abilities to try harder, think smarter, and serve more in the life of the church. This just leads to legalism and a mentality that one must earn their sanctification rather than seeing it solely as the gracious work of a faithful God that will bring to completion a work that He began (Philippians 1:6).
Two Aspects of Sanctification
There are two aspects of sanctification that go hand in hand. First, as Berkhof describes, the mortification of sin, and second, the quickening of the new man. Another way to describe it is dying to sin and rising to a new life in Christ. Baptism is an apt illustration.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. - Rom 6:1-6
As one is lowered into the baptismal waters they are dying to self and rising to a new life in Christ. This is an ongoing process in the life of the believer. Ground being gained, ground being lost, two steps forward and one step back. We are continually waging war against sin, whether it be pride, greed, lust, gossip, slander, divisiveness, and many, many others. We are continuously taking a look at our heart, asking the Lord to show us those areas in our lives where sin is taking root. We continuously are finding and identifying those idols that we worship such as money, possessions, success, ourselves, and smashing them at the foot of the cross. While the old is being torn down (mortification of sin) the new is being built (new life in Christ).
Universal and Complete
There is a line of thinking that really upsets me. I catch myself doing it from time to time. It is when I begin to categorize my life. I have my faith life here, my personal life here, my family life here, and my work life here. In these nice and neat sections each stays completely separate and never the two shall touch. Often this is the mentality when it comes to sanctification. One is content with growth in the “religious” section but neglects how they treat others at work. Or, they only want an exterior façade of growth, a growth that can be viewed by others but neglect the body, soul, intellect, affections, and will. All of which are in dire need of sanctification. What we think about needs to be renewed. What we crave and yearn for needs to be the presence of Christ in our lives. What we desire and do needs to shift from a self-centered focus to one that desires to follow the will of the Father, how ever counter-cultural it may be. Sanctification must be of the complete individual, not just the “religious” aspect.
I can see areas in my life where growth has taken place. I can also see areas that have stayed the same or worse, regressed. Overall, I am thankful for the work that God has been doing because through it, He is exhibiting His grace, love, and patience with me, a stubborn fool. God has taken me on a journey of sanctification. He has used individuals and situations to soften the hardness of my heart. He has used pastors, mentors, congregations, classmates, professors, family, and friends to lovingly correct me and steer me in the right direction. He has prodded me to flee from sin and walk with Him in new life. While I continuously resist, He lovingly invites.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. - 1 Thess 5:23-24