Growing in Christ, Part 3 - Its Importance
In this three-blog series, are looking at 2 Peter 1:3-11 to learn how believers can grow in their relationship with Christ. In the first blog, I focused on the power for spiritual growth. In the second blog, I wrote about the process of growth. In this blog, I’d like to explore why spiritual growth is so important.
In verses 8-11, the Apostle Peter describes four benefits that will come to our lives as believers if we continue down the path of spiritual growth.
First, if you keep growing as a Christian, your life will make a difference in the world. In verse 8, Peter says, “For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Nobody wants to reach the end of their life and realize that it did not matter to anyone that they were here. We all want our existence in this world to count for something. It is tempting to think that if we were only more gifted and talented, we would have greater impact on the world. I can fantasize of the influence I would have on others if I were a professional athlete, a famous musician, or a best-selling author. But this passage teaches that the key to making a difference is not to be more gifted. The key to making a difference is to keep growing.
Notice that Peter does not say, “If you possess these qualities, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive.” He says, “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive.” It is not just the possession of virtue that has impact; it is the increase of virtue.
In High School physics class they taught us that momentum equals mass times velocity. This explains why it hurts more to be hit by a golf ball launched off someone’s driver than to brush up against a pickup truck parked at the side of the road. A golf ball weighs 1.6 ounces. A pickup can weigh over 1 ½ tons. How can an object with such little mass (the ball) have more impact on you than an object with great mass (the truck)? The answer is that the golf ball is moving, and the pickup is not. A small object in motion has greater momentum than a large object at rest.
Sometimes recently born-again Christians have more impact on people around them than do seasoned church members who have been following the Lord for years. New believers bring a sense of joy and expectancy to prayer meetings. Their presence in a worship service adds an element of joy. New Christians often lead more friends to faith than seminary graduates do. Why is this? Spiritually speaking the new believer has the mass of a golf ball. They do not know the Bible. Their prayers are not deep. They may still struggle with embarrassing sins. How can they make more of an impact on others than experienced believers do who have been leaders in the church for decades? The answer is that the new believers are quickly growing, while the experienced Christians may be stuck in a rut. The new believers are moving forward with the Lord. Momentum equals mass times velocity.
If you keep growing as a Christian, your life will make a difference. You will have impact on others around you.
The second benefit of spiritual growth is that it produces joy and gratitude within us.
In verse 9, Peter writes, “But whoever does not have [these qualities] is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” Another way to say that is, “Christians who stop growing get grumpy.” Spiritually stagnate Christians are often miserable, joyless people. Because they have stopped making progress in their faith, they lose sight of what God has done for them and forget “that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” Conversely, when we are growing – seeing God change us, learning new things about his love, experiencing the work of the Spirit in our lives – we are filled with thanksgiving.
When our children were young, we had a spot in our kitchen where every year on each child’s birthdays we drew a line on the wall, writing their name and the date, to record how tall they were. These were always occasions of laughter and celebration for the whole family. Seeing how much the kids had grown over the last twelve months filled us with joy. The same thing happens for believers when they see themselves grow in their relationship with Christ.
Spiritual growth brings joy even when we still have a long way to go. Pastor and hymn-writer John Newton wrote, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” His on-going growth as a believer made him a joyful man.
The third benefit of growth is that it can protect you from falling into sin. In verse 10, Peter writes, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble ….”
Have you ever tried to place your feet on the pedals of a bicycle and balance in place when the bike is not moving? It is very hard to do. Most people in that situation will quickly tip over. But if you are pumping the pedals and riding down the street, the bike stays up on its own. That is a good picture of the morally protective effect of spiritual growth. Forward movement protects against needless falls. Peter says, “If you do these things, you will never stumble.” What things is he referring to? He is referring to his exhortation in verses 5-7 to keep adding virtues like goodness, knowledge, self-control, and godliness to our faith.
A survey of ministers who had fallen into grievous sin revealed that, preceding their fall, many of them had stopped reading Scripture to nourish their own souls and only turned to their Bibles to hunt for ideas for their next sermon. This should not surprise us. When did King David commit adultery? When he stopped going out to battle. When was Samson conquered by his enemies? When he fell asleep in Delilah’s house. When did Peter deny the Lord? When he took a nap in the garden. Personal negligence leads to spiritual downfall.
When we stop moving, we start falling. The devil cannot hit a moving target. Protect yourself from stumbling by continuing to seek spiritual growth from God.
The fourth benefit of on-going spiritual growth is that it assures us of our eternal reward.
How do you know you are truly saved? Because you were baptized? Hitler was baptized. Because you are involved in church? There have been ordained ministers in the Ku Klux Klan. Because you have led others to faith in Christ? Judas preached the gospel (and quite effectively, at that).
How does one know they are truly saved? Peter tells us that the clearest evidence of God’s saving grace in a person’s life is their on-going growth in Christian virtue. In verse 10, he tells us that by growing in Christ you “confirm your calling and election.”
When a person is in a taxi on the way to the airport, they will often check with the airline to confirm that they have a seat on the plane. Growth in Christian character confirms your calling. It assures you that “you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 11). Growth gives you confidence that your experience of God’s grace is genuine, that the Lord has truly revealed himself to you, and that your faith is real.
So, why is it important for Christians to keep growing in our relationship with Christ? When we grow, our impact on the world increases, we are filled with the joy of the Lord, we are kept safe from moral failure, and we are assured of our future with the Lord.