2 Peter 3:17-18 (NKJV) You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This past week I had the privilege of addressing our congregation concerning these two verses. The overall instruction was concerned with our growing in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Rather than reprint the entirety of the sermon, I would like share some direction from a story, which closed the message. A few comments on the above passage are necessary to set the stage.
SETTING THE STAGE
In the above passage Peter is addressing the redeemed, those who have received the grace of God. Therefore his admonition is revealing, as the word of God ties our being able to remain steadfast in our faith, to growing in the grace of God. Therefore it is entirely rational to surmise that the grace of God is more than receiving forgiveness through Jesus blood.
In lieu of this we can all agree with the classic phrase “It’s all of grace”. Our growing in the knowledge of the word is all of grace. Our being practically sanctified is all of grace. Our receiving bodily healing is all of grace. Our being empowered by the Holy Spirit for ministry is all of grace. Our future glorified state in eternity is all of grace. Although these statements are biblically true and wonderful, we must reject the lazy and unscriptural idea that that grace takes us against our own will.
In order to grow in the knowledge of the word of God, we must make an effort to be in a position, where the Holy Spirit can give us the grace of understanding his word. In order to be sanctified into Christ’s righteousness, we don’t pray and expect the Lord to make us love our enemies, or be compassionate, or care for the lost, or tell the truth against our will. In those situations, the Holy Spirit will reveal the way of Christ; we still must choose to deny that which is opposite the way of Christ, by yielding to His will and empowerment. We can declare “it is all of grace”, yet we must actively participate in His direction, for love sake.
The gift of grace through Jesus blood does bring forgiveness, yet forgiveness is not the end of grace, but the everlasting doors opening to every inheritance in Christ. Still more, even before awakened to the truth of the gospel, God is extending grace, which is His favor and blessing. This grace cannot be earned, and is a gift and we know true gifts are given freely.
So when Peter instructs us to grow in the grace of God, we ought to take it serious. Not only do we want to remain steadfast, but Hebrews 12:15 relays that not to grow in grace, “to fall short of the grace of God”, is a perilous condition indeed.
GROWING IN THE GIFT OF GOD’S GRACE
Ephesians 2:8-10 (NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Instead of giving and exegetical teaching on this passage, I offer you this illustration, given to me by the Holy Spirit for the conclusion of the message on growing in grace, from last week.
“Consider a man who lives in the sparsely populated area of Sub-Saharan Africa. This man has been running a violent fever and is dehydrated, from conditions associated with his illness. There are no hospitals for hundreds of miles and he has only a donkey and a cart for transportation. The nearest clinic is ten miles from his village.
After loading his weakened body into the cart, he makes the trek to the clinic. Upon arrival he sees two men in lab coats, obviously from a foreign nation. These men are doctors and proceed to diagnose his condition, as a type of hemorrhagic fever, which can cause the body to run so hot that it causes internal bleeding. His condition is not to the point of internal hemorrhage, but he is still in perilous condition. The doctors give him medicine, which they tell him will eradicate the bug causing his sickness. This is given to him as a gift, for he is too poor to pay for the medicine. He goes away with hope.
A week later the men travel to his village to check on his progress. Upon entering his home they find he is no better. The bottle of medicine sitting among his pagan idols of worship unopened. He tells them he did ritual dances and even sacrificed a chicken to the god in the bottle, but nothing happened”.
This first scenario reveals two truths to us concerning growing in grace. The first truth is, in order to actually receive grace it must be received appropriately. The indigent man thought he received a gift from the gods, yet because received it improperly he had no benefit. In like fashion we can receive grace in appropriately as well.
In Ephesians 2:8-9 we understand that we are saved by grace, received through faith. In other words in order to receive the grace of God through the gift of the cross we must exercise faith, understanding that faith is not merely mental assent or belief in the word of God truth. Saving faith understands the truth in such a way that you entrust your life to it, and act upon it. The first action that reveals saving faith is repentance, which means to turn from our old life and turn towards God’s ways.
This leads to our second truth concerning receiving grace God’s way. When this man received the medicine, he treated as he had other remedies he had been given by witch doctors or pagan priests in his village. His gift was a mere trophy that left his life unchanged, as it sat on his idol shelf collecting dust like a trophy. This is a cautionary tale to Christians in the west.
Far too often, when grace is misunderstood as being primarily about forgiveness, we carry it like a certificate to be pulled out, declaring we accepted Christ and are fine and dandy having received grace, though our lives are unaltered by that grace. As this man treated the medicine bottle like a mere relic, or fetish, we can treat grace in similar fashion. In that case, regardless of our grasp of theological truth, we are falling short of the grace of God. In our first scenario the man did nothing with the gift given to him, yet we can still learn from this man’s continuing story.
“After the man explained why the bottle was on the shelf, they explain the bottle is not an idol, but medicine needing to be applied. The man agrees to apply the antidote for his fever and make a visit to them next week. Yet upon arrival he is no better, even though the bottle of medicine is completely, empty. They asked him if he applied the medicine and he says yes, frustrated because it only lasted a day and did not work.
Knowing that taking all the medicine in one day would have caused death by overdose, they asked him how he applied it. The man grabs the bottle and shows how he poured it on his hands and rubbed it on his body. Astonished by his revelation, they proceed to explain the medicine needs to be ingested in a small dosage daily. As he leaves they apologize for not being clearer. He agrees to follow the instructions and wait for their visit in a week”.
In this second scenario we begin to understand that, even if we know the gift of grace must be received appropriately and applied to our lives, we still can fall short of the grace of God if not applied in the appropriate fashion. Considering Ephesians 2:8-10 we can see how grace needs to be applied in order to grow in the grace of God… “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which god prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”.
To receive the gift of the grace of God is wonderful, but its eternal intention is to bring glory to God, through our doing things that glorify Him (Matthew 5:13-16). This ought not to be a remarkable revelation, but in a church culture that has made grace primarily about self-actualization and spiritual happiness, it is often lost. Proper application of the gift of God, and the benefits that even transform our lives, occur only as we are about His work and seeking to make Him known.
In other words, in order to properly apply grace and gain the antidote for our old man, we need to turn from self-promotion to God-promotion. When trying to use the benefits of God’s grace to make us feel better about our spiritual life, or secure personal blessing (prosperity gospel), we waste grace just like our friend wasted the medicine rubbing it in to his body. Let’s return to our story
“As the doctors return to the man’s home the following week, they find the bottle sitting on a table, with only a small amount missing from the bottle. His condition has worsened considerably and the doctors begin to question him as to why the medicine has not been consumed appropriately. He tells them the medicine tasted so horrible that he only took a small dose, and did not want the rest; he is therefore willing to wait out his fever. Soberly they tell him, unless he takes this strong medicine you will missed out on needed changes it will make to your body and you will die. The man has grave decisions to make”.
This last scenario brings us back to Hebrews 12:15 where we are instructed to look carefully lest we fall short of the grace of God. This verse comes at the end of an entire section in Hebrews 12:5-17, which address the most prevalent way we stop growing in grace, which is to reject God’s loving chastisement. In this section the author encourages the saints, who are experiencing difficulties (which are serving as God’s discipline), to not reject His strong medicine. In verses 5-6, in fact, the author quotes Proverbs 3:11-12…
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor grow weary of His correction; for whom the LORD loves, He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights”
In the remaining verses of that section, the Lord relays that even though His correction is strong and unpleasant medicine, it is necessary to produce appropriate Christ-like character in our lives. He also reveals the outcome of not receiving His discipline, with the unpleasant example of Esau. The point being, that no matter what the difficulty, in order to grow in grace, we need to take our strong unpleasant medicine.
Let’s face facts; most normal people do not like getting spanked, any more than they like taking medicine. In our cultural Christianity, not many want a brother, or minister, or friend to really speak the truth in love to them. We are a hypersensitive bunch, who part company easily, especially if someone suggests we are not walking with Christ as we should. Gone are the days when we expect pastors to preach the word of God in season and out, convince, rebuke, and exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
Today many Christians are satisfied with having the grace of forgiveness and a cleaner more moral existence, while they wait for heaven. As we have seen, that is short of the grace of God, and is quite simply to be deceived. The behavior of many, who rebel when corrected even in small ways, speaks the American corporate Christian motto “Go ahead and lie to me”. Lie to me as long as it makes me feel good and I do not have to move when I don’t feel like it. Lie to me as long as I get to measure myself by my own standard, of course crafted from my favorite scripture texts. Beware my dear friends, if we do not receive the correction of those He sends to us, He will do the correcting in ways that are far more severe, even though still done in His love.
My dear friends in Christ, may you consider how you’re growing in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and for loves sake, take your medicine!!!