December 24, 2013

Growing in grace . . .

Today’s devotional reading was sincerely intended, but way off-base. For that reason, I opened another one and it blessed my heart with almost the opposite idea about the Christian life. The first one used this verse . . .
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)

I understand this growth to mean that I am to become more and more like Jesus and the means of that growth to maturity is the grace of God and a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. That is, I cannot make myself grow. God does it through His Son, and because God does it, He gets the glory.

However, the devotional writer said that this text implies that grace in its beginning “is imperfect and that its progress to maturity is gradual, for if it were perfect there could be no room for growth.” What nonsense. I might display the grace of God in my life, but His grace is not like a feeble infant. Any immaturity displayed is my failure to live by grace, my stubborn determination to “do it myself.” Again, grace isn’t what needs to grow. It is me.

The rest of the article tells me how to make grace grow and ends with, “A Christian who makes no advancement is going backward. The only course of safety, therefore, as well as comfort, is to make vigorous efforts to grow in grace.” This is a contradiction. Grace is never produced by vigorous effort human effort. It is a gift from God and comes by His blessing. He changes me as I get to know Jesus, not as I try harder.

Yet this growth is not a passive “zap.” I have to cooperate with God by obeying Him and practicing spiritual disciplines. Some of my responsibilities were given in the second devotional. It used these verses . . . 

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:2–4)

God offers truth and I am to set my mind on that. This truth includes facts like the life of Christ now lives in me. I am hidden in His life, and my old life is dead, separate from God and useless. That means several things, first of all that the Spirit of God affirms a simple security of life hid with Christ in God. The New Testament makes this plain.

We humanly (and sinfully) tend to think that living a holy life is precarious and we need to hang on for dear life, but this is not so. Eternal life is secure because God did it, is in it, behind it, making it happen by grace, not by human efforts.

As the second reading says, the precarious thing is to try and live without God and without grace. In contrast, those who are reborn by His Spirit find that living in right relationship to Him is as easy as walking in the light. By grace, God delivers us from sin. By grace, God keeps us in His will. By grace God gives us room to grow and does not beat us over the head for our stumbling or for missing the mark. While we do falter and even disobey, even those things are included in the “all” things that He uses for our good. This is not an excuse for failure, but God has used my sinful mistakes to teach me what is flesh and what I must “put it to death.” This is grace.

The second devotional concludes with these thoughts . . . “When you really see Jesus, I defy you to doubt Him. When (you see Him and) He says—‘Let not your heart be troubled,’ I defy you to trouble your mind. It is a moral impossibility to doubt when He is there. Every time you get into personal contact with Jesus, His words are real. ‘My peace I give unto you’ is a peace all over from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet, an irrepressible confidence. ‘Your life is hid with Christ in God’ and the imperturbable peace of Jesus Christ is imparted to you.”

This is grace, and when God blesses me with grace through the knowledge of Jesus Christ, grace does not grow --- I do.

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