by Eric Newton
You don’t need a green thumb to understand that plants grow under certain conditions. (I can personally testify that learning about photosynthesis does not translate into growing plants successfully!) Sunshine is a factor. The type of soil matters. And far above all else, plants need water.
But how do Christians grow? Human beings are more complex than plants (though we don’t do so well without water either). When you consider the human heart according to Scripture—in terms of beliefs and values and desires and commitments—you realize that answering the question of Christian growth could get quite complicated. However, the essence of growth is quite simple.
At the end of his second letter Peter writes, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” This concluding exhortation expresses some basic yet profound truths.
First, growth isn’t an option. This is the final verse of an apostolic letter urging believers to grow in order to maintain stability in the face of false teaching. In other words, if we don’t grow, we’ll shrivel. Our spiritual vitality will wither under the effects of false doctrine and worldly practices.
Second, growth requires grace and knowledge. This is familiar territory. We know we need grace. It’s one of our favorite truths, and for good reason. We have no hope unless God chooses to rescue us from our sin and favor us in spite of our desert. It is also clear that knowledge of Christ is important. He is central to our lives. Eternal life is knowing Christ.
But how are grace and the knowledge of Christ related? Are they simply two big ideas placed next to each other? Or are they organically related? Perhaps grace comes through knowledge?
It’s easy to think of grace in terms of a commodity. We often ask the Lord in the morning to give us grace for the day, perhaps like a pharmaceutical prescription or a same-day Amazon shipment. We know we have a need, so we place an order. But grace isn’t impersonal. It is the active presence of a Person.
In Titus 2:11 Paul says, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.” Clearly, the apostle is referring to the coming of God the Son. Grace arrived (in a new way) in Jesus Christ. In 2 Timothy 1:9 Paul speaks of God giving us grace “in Christ Jesus.” Peter begins his second epistle with this blessing, “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord” (1:2).
Let these words sink in. Grace isn’t an add-on or a side benefit. God graciously forgives and blesses and strengthens and teaches us in Christ. The only way to grace is a growing personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
So, how do we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Savior? The New Testament directs our focus to three primary ways: Scripture, prayer, and the local church. These three are sometimes called the “ordinary means of grace.” Ordinary doesn’t mean boring or lifeless. It means this is how God typically works. Of all the ways He could sanctify and strengthen His people, He has characteristically used these three.
God gives us grace through the Word of Christ, praying in the name of Christ, and living as a vital member of the body of Christ. We listen to, meditate on, and respond to Scripture (Acts 20:32; Rom. 15:4). We commune with God in prayer (Eph. 6:18; Heb. 4:16; Jude 20). We actively participate in the life of the church, including ordinances, worship, church discipline, spiritual gifts, and fellowship (1 Cor. 14:12; Eph. 4:29; Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Pet. 4:10-11).
Plants need water. Christians need to know Christ. What would be a great year of discipleship? It comes down to the basics. We need to be solidly rooted in the ordinary means of grace, prizing them for what they are—the life-changing means by which we know and grow in Christ.