Growing in Christ , Part 2 - The Process
In this three-blog series, we are looking at 2 Peter 1:3-11 to explore the ways believers grow in their relationship with Christ. In the first blog, I focused on the power for spiritual growth. In this blog, I want to talk about the process of growth.
Peter describes the process of growth in verses 5-7: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”
Notice, first, that Peter is describing a gradual process. Spiritual growth takes time. It does not happen all at once.
The story is told of a group of American tourists traveling through Europe. Every stop they make seems to feature a plaque commemorating the birthplace of some famous historical figure. As they pass through a small town in the countryside, they see an old man sitting by the side of the road. “Sir,” they ask him, “were any great leaders born in this town?” “No,” he replies, “the only thing born here is babies.”
That is the way it is in the family of God. No one is born again as a fully mature follower of Christ. We all begin the life of faith as spiritual babies. We all have a lot of growing to do.
So the Apostle says, “Add to your faith goodness; and [add] to goodness, knowledge; and [add] to knowledge, self-control; and … [add] perseverance; and … [add] godliness; and … mutual affection; and … love.” The Christian life is one in which we are constantly adding to what we have already attained. The goal is to experience these virtues “in increasing measure” (v. 8).
Patricia Namnún, a Christian leader in Latin America, says, “Spiritual growth is the process through which God shapes us to be more and more like Christ. As Christians, we want to be like Jesus. This process does not happen by accident, neither does it happen immediately.”
These thoughts should be encouraging to us. God is not expecting any Christian to attain spiritual maturity quickly. Growth in the Lord is a process that takes time.
Not only is spiritual growth a gradual process; it is also a personal process. Who, according to Peter, is responsible for adding virtues like goodness, knowledge, and self-control to my life? Is God responsible for doing this? No, I am. The power for spiritual growth comes from God, but the process of spiritual growth involves me.
Notice that Peter says, “make every effort” to add these virtues to your life. The phrase “make every effort” has been translated: “use all diligence,” “try your hardest,” “do your best,” “strive to [do these things],” and “do your utmost from your side.” It is a phrase that expresses the idea of intentional exertion on our part.
Christian literature on spiritual growth consistently stresses the importance of personal effort. D.A. Carson writes: “People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.” R.C. Sproul writes: “The Christian life requires hard work. Our sanctification is a process wherein we are coworkers with God. We have the promise of God’s assistance in our labor, but His divine help does not [nullify] our responsibility to work.” Each of us is personally responsible, with humble reliance on God’s power, to do what we can to pursue growth in the Lord.
It is interesting to me that Peter does not tell us how to add these virtues to our character. He seems to be inviting us to reflect on what it would take for us to grow in these ways. We should frequently ask ourselves questions like:
- What would it take for me to become more loving?
- What can I do to gain more knowledge?
- What hinders me from developing greater self-control?
- If I do not feel mutual affection toward other Christians because I barely know anyone in my church, what could I do about that problem?
A helpful assignment might be to select one of the seven qualities Peter lists in verses 5-7 and outline actions you think a Christian should take if they want that virtue to increase in their personal character. Then, prayerfully consider what it would entail for you to take those action steps.
The power for spiritual growth comes from God, not from us. But the gradual process of growing involves active participation on our part. Ask the Lord to show you what steps you can be taking to further the process of growth in your life.
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