Grow in Grace
Grow in Grace
A look at what grace is and how we are to grow in it.
Sermon: Grow In Grace What is grace and how are we to grow in it? Presented by Dan Dowd Milwaukee, Wisconsin – January 22, 2011
It can seem that no matter how long we’ve been part of God’s church and read His Word, there are terms used in the Bible that continue to be unclear for whatever reason. Terms like predestination, or even salvation, justification, sanctification – not words we typically use in our day-to-day vocabulary and when we tie that into the spiritual nature can seem to be unclear, especially when so much of the rest of Christianity has a wrong interpretation and implication of so many of these points. There’s an old business saying that I’m sure many of you are familiar with: K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) That’s my approach to Christianity. That if God called the weak and the base of the world (1 Corinthians 1:26 if I remember correctly) then He has to have a simple explanation for these matters so we can hang onto them, so we can understand what they are. If we look at God’s Word and seek to keep it simple, then we don’t really have to work hard to wrap our minds around whether God knew we would be called thousands of years ago, some preach with predestination, or whether we can do anything to be right with God, which some wrongly teach with sanctification, or what it simply means to have God’s grace. That’s another of those terms that are sometimes thrown about by Christians that people tend to be unclear about – the term “grace.” What is grace? Could any of us define it in clear and straightforward fashion to someone else unfamiliar with the term? Perhaps someone who is informed wrongly on what that means. Could we point out where most of Christianity gets it wrong and why it’s misunderstood?
We can add to this the aspect in 2 Peter and we’ll come to that verse later on where Peter says to grow in grace and knowledge. How do we grow in grace? We can understand knowledge to some extent. We do that our whole lives, learning different aspects of knowledge. But what about grace? How do we grow in grace? That’s what I would like to cover today, answering those questions that I have posed that we may grow in grace. So, as we begin then, how are we to do it? What are some of its applications in scripture when we’re talking about grace, what does the Bible have to say? We know through grace that God reveals Himself. I’m going to mention some verses here and you can write them down. We’ll turn to others in a moment but I want to set the stage. In John 1 verses 14 and 16, we’re told that God reveals Himself through this grace and helps us to come to know His Son. God also calls us through His grace – Galatians 1:15 Through grace God pronounces us justified that is righteous and free from sin as a result of Christ’s sacrifice. A number of scriptures point that out: Romans 3:24 is one of them. Through grace God allows us to enjoy a relationship with Him – Romans 5 verses 1 and 2 God forgives us through His grace – Ephesians 1:7 I think you get the point. If you just do a study on the word “grace” I think you’ll be surprised at how often it is used and in how many different circumstances it is talked about. Let’s turn then and read one of these. In 1 Peter 1:2, Peter is writing to his audience as he begins his salutations in this letter, in this epistle, as he writes says simply, Verse 2 – to the elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.
Verse 3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us… and then he goes on to talk more about this letter. In 1 Peter 2 he’s talking about grace. Peter uses this phrase a lot to the extent that others do as well, many of the other writers. As I mentioned, we can struggle trying to define this. Here’s what one commentary has to say concerning this: Grace is a sense of what is right, proper and decent from God’s perspective. It is unmerited love and favor from God towards us. Grace is showing kindness and mercy, bringing a peace from knowing Christ died for us and that we can take on the mind of Christ. While it is true that grace is showing mercy and kindness and favor from God, it is not free, unmerited pardon. Oftentimes that is thrown around, so I’ll repeat that statement: Grace is not free, unmerited pardon. That may kind of shock some people, but as he says at the end of verse 2 – Grace to you and peace be multiplied. We’ll get back to that point in a moment. We’ll let that sit for a moment in your minds. I’d like next to read to you an excerpt from our booklet, United’s booklet, The Road To Eternal Life. They’re touching on this point of grace. It says, “Grace and obedient works are complementary rather than contradictory terms. The word grace comes from a Greek word that means “gift” or “favor.” “Salvation, or eternal life, is a gift we receive by grace and no amount of works or effort to obey God on our part could ever earn us eternal life. This is not to say that eternal life is free...” This is part of what I was referring to earlier. “Christ paid for it with His life so we could receive the gift of salvation.” We continue in the booklet, “… but there are conditions. The first is that we repent. Repentance earns us nothing; we deserve no favors because we repent. But repentance is required.”
Why? Because repentance is a condition for forgiveness. Peter again said that himself in Acts 2:38 when they asked him, after they were convicted in their hearts of everything he had said. They said, What are we going to do? And he said, Repent. Change. Don’t continue doing what you’re doing. Continuing from the book, “God will not forgive those who willingly continue to sin.” We must change the direction of our lives as a prerequisite for receiving God’s gift of salvation. That is what both Christ and the apostles taught.” Again, those examples are replete in scripture. “God expects us,” continuing, “to include good works in our lives to demonstrate repentance and His love and faith active within us. The apostle James explicitly states that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20, 26), and Paul makes it plain that God saves us by grace through faith for the very purpose of producing good works, even though those good works cannot earn our salvation:” There is no doubt that the concept of grace is important. If you went back home and pulled out your Strong’s book or if you had a computer program and you looked up the term “grace” you’d find that is used more than 150 times in the New Testament alone. There’s a lot of meat there to dig out. So how do we reconcile this? We’re talking about growing in grace. How do we do that? While we’re here in Peter, let’s go to the second epistle of Peter, 2 Peter 3 verse 18. This is the verse I was referring to earlier.
2 Peter 3:18 – but grow in grace and knowledge… at the end of both of his epistles, as he begins summarizing, he’s encouraging all to be steadfast and diligent, to be longsuffering, to continue to abide in the things that he and the other faithful ministry have taught and he says – grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. So again, how do we do this though? He says this is what we should do but how do we make that happen? I mentioned the aspect of knowledge. We can grow in knowledge. We do that as we physically grow. We learn how to crawl, then we learn how to walk and run, and we learn to do many other things as we mature physically. It should be the same spiritually, meaning we grow in our capacity in our spiritual calling as we would in our physical capacity and do more things. In a spiritual context that means extending grace to others. If God extends grace to us, then we should grow and extend that to others. We go back to 1 Peter 2 now. 1 Peter 2 and in verse 2 – as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, That is, there is a process in this calling that we have, isn’t there? That if God was to call us into His body, if He was to give us His truth and we were expected to know everything right off the bat, none of us would be sitting here, would we? We learn things by doing, we learn by studying, we learn by applying, we learn by watching others do it successfully. But there should be a point that we move beyond the milk because we’re growing and can’t live on that forever. There’s not enough balance in all of that. If we continue in verse 13 he says – Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, Verse 14 – or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.
Verse 15 – For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— Remember what I read from our booklet, that a big part of growing in grace is the application of us living God’s way of life, that we also then grow by serving others, by putting this out there for them to see. In this section, Peter is talking about this in terms of the political or governmental structure around them. Verse 16 – as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Verse 17 – Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. Verse 18 – Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear… And it’s interesting how much he’s talking in this section through the end of chapter 2 regarding this aspect of submission to authority. There’s an aspect of grace to that. Why? This is part of what I think we’re told to grow in, in that as God forgives us, as He extends His grace to us, we are to extend that grace to each other. Perhaps that’s part of what Christ was trying to get those accusers of the woman caught in adultery, as was mentioned in the sermonette, to see. They were so concerned about the letter of the law, they didn’t see a broader application. As I’ve said, if we’re all going to hold ourselves out for an eye for an eye, we’re all going to be blind then aren’t we? Where do we stop with that? And it’s not that we shouldn’t be accountable for our actions, but if we want that mercy, if we want God’s grace to be upon us, then we should be willing to give each other that as well, shouldn’t we?
If we continue here in chapter 2 verse 21 – For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Verse 22 – "Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth"; Verse 23 – who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; Verse 24 – who Himself bore our sins… Remember when we talked about the price of grace, a price of that favor to be given to us. And as Peter says here, we are to follow in his footsteps and it says in Verse 24 – who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness-- by whose stripes you were healed. Keys to growing in grace in this section. I would encourage you to go back and reread this whole chapter because God talks about us being chosen in verse 9, a chosen generation. He has a purpose for us, not just us but all of mankind, but for now us, and as we read, to be in part that example to the world around us. If we go back to Chapter 1 verse 13 in 1 Peter Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober… you know, be ready to act on these things, be aware of what’s going on… and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; That mercy and that favor, again it’s not free, unmerited pardon. It’s not free. It has a price. Christ paid a price for it and there’s a price that we need to pay, not that we could ever earn it.
If I promised you something, I would give you a scholarship if you meet a certain grade criteria but I don’t hold you to that standard, what value is there in that? Anyone should be able to claim that, even individuals that perhaps I didn’t offer that to. But if I tell you that up front and you don’t meet that standard, you can’t come back and demand it right because I’ve already said what the standard should be. We face this all the time in the world around us. It’s not so hard and fast with God’s way of life but there is the standard. If we choose to disobey God’s instruction, then why would He continue to grant us grace? We get exhausted with that, don’t we? You pull through a construction zone and they’re trying to funnel three lanes down to one and you might pause a bit to let someone else scoot in and then maybe two other cars try to get in right behind him. You feel a bit aggravated don’t you? Well now they’re just taking advantage of this. There is an expectation that there is a favor to be returned. That God expects us to reply in kind if you will. Not that we could in that way ever obligate God or say you’re owed grace as well but we can fulfill that by doing it with each other. God’s grace, His dealings with humanity is motivated by that love. There’s a huge component of God’s love in His grace. As we’re to grow in grace, a huge part of it is to understand that aspect of love. There’s a great series that I’ve started listening to by Mr. Gary Petty.
He did an eight part series of sermons on grace. It’s just fantastic. He really goes into a great amount of detail on it. I don’t know if we really understand God’s love, even in His church, the way we should. That love that he talks about in his sermon series, that agape love, that word that we like to throw out there, is really defined by the New Testament. If we look at what it means, it’s talking about loving someone else as they should be without any expectation back. The best for the other person. It’s not driven by emotion, it’s not driven by reciprocity, it’s not driven by a lot of human elements. Grace falls very closely behind that, I’m convinced. God set in motion, as we read, from the foundation of the world the sacrifice of His Son. He loved us before He created us. He loved us even before He knew that we would sin. That is the actual act. He had a plan for all of mankind to be part of His family. We rehearse that every week on the Sabbath day, every year through the Holy Days, to be reminded of that grace that He extends to us all made possible through the sacrifice of His son. We are justified with God, we are sanctified through him, we have mercy extended to us and we have been given that mercy. James is where I’d like to turn next.
In James 2:14, James talks a great deal in his epistle about faith and works and many still have a struggle reconciling this in their minds in the Christian community. In James 2:14 breaking in to the thought, he says – What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? We talked earlier about how this should be shown to each other and there’s an aspect of works involved in grace. We’re not talking about works to earn salvation, we’re talking about works for a couple of things: To not only show that we understand the expectation, the obedience required, what we should do, but also what it does in our mind – that as we follow that instruction it changes us. Let’s put this in a simple context. Those of us who drive know that when you pull out onto the street you better be on the right side of the street otherwise you’re going to be facing the wrong traffic. Go to a country that had Britain as its lead for centuries in some cases, they drive on the other side of the road, don’t they? That’s very freaky if you’ve ever been to one of those countries. You have to think every time you get into a car that you have to do it differently because you’ve established that pattern already. God’s way of life is really no different, He wants us to establish the pattern and as we establish the pattern we grow in understanding. We’re talking about the spiritual component of this now.
If we continue in James 2:15 -- If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, Verse 16 – and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," (in other words without the action, what good is that?) but he says, you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Verse 17 – Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Verse 18 – But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. In other words, we can say all day long can’t we; we can say to our kids and perhaps those that we teach: Do as I say and not as I do. It rarely works does it? We really do watch people, we emulate each other. It’s the same spiritually. James here is saying that if you really have faith it will show. Grace is the same thing, this extension of favor to others. Verse 19 – You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe-- and tremble! Verse 20 – But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Why is it dead? There’s no application. I studied German in college. I still remember enough to get myself in trouble. When you don’t practice it, you lose it don’t you – A musical instrument or chore or skill that you may have had in the past that you haven’t stayed up on. Verse 24 – You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
Verse 25 – Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? Her actions showed what she wanted to trust in, what she wanted to do. Verse 26 – For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. And if we’re going to apply those works we’re not just talking about faith, we’re also talking about grace. That as we practice these things, we find the reality of them. In Chapter 4 of James verse 5 – Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously "? Verse 6 – But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." There are a lot of components that play into this. None of them should be that complicated to us. I mentioned the aspect of God’s love, I mentioned what James has said here in terms of faith. There’s also this aspect of humility. If God is going to do this for us then who are we to judge or harangue or condemn or whatever to each other. Again, I’m not talking about holding up the standard but we often cross that line and become a judge and that’s not a good place to be. God gives grace to the humble because grace is conditional upon a Christian’s willingness to repent. Remember we read that earlier from our booklet. Let me say that again: Grace is conditional upon a Christian’s willingness to repent. That repentance that we touched on earlier is simply becoming converted and living by God’s law. The word repentance most of us understand, in a simple application, means to turn around.
The world is chasing one direction and God says, Stop! Go the other way. That’s not going to work. That’s not going to be where you get life. Let’s go to Matthew 18 and we won’t read the whole context here but beginning in verse 21 is the parable of the unwise servant. If you remember the story, the master came to his servants and wanted to collect a debt and he was unable and pleaded for mercy and the master gave it to him, then he went to those who owed just a pittance compared to what he had owed and he was willing to throw them in prison and all sorts of things. So in Matthew 18 verse 32 – Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. (You pleaded your case, and I gave you what you asked for) Verse 33 – `Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' If we ask of God that favor, what better way to show it, what better way to grow in it than to extend that favor to each other as well. And if you read the end of it, his master was angry and what happens to those who had owed to him a pittance, his master did to him as well. Works and grace go together. We touched on that in James earlier. He wrote his epistle trying to explain to the scattered tribes how the harmony with Christ’s teaching and instructions work. They were not inconsistent, as we read earlier. They are complementary. We’ll go back to James then.
James 5:11 – Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord-- that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. God extends this to us and it’s completely within our favor, isn’t it? We can’t obligate him to do it, we can’t demand it, we can’t do certain things so that He has to. And if He is extending that compassion to us, that mercy to us, then as James is talking about throughout his whole epistle, if we are indeed to show our faith by our works, then that’s a part of what we’re to be doing as well, to extend that favor. We read chapter 4 verse 6 where he says God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. That humility should be part of our aspect of growing as a Christian. That gets hard doesn’t it because it involves stepping away from our human nature. The natural inclination to defend ourselves, to protect ourselves, to exalt ourselves – to do all sorts of things that the world is very steeped in. The Bible is very plain in its teaching that salvation is a gift from God. The favor that God extends, even though it’s a gift and something we cannot earn we are expected to obey God if we’re to received that gift. The illustration I gave earlier of the scholarship. While we’re here let’s go to James 2:20 – But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? With that in mind then, let’s turn to Ephesians 2:8.
Ephesians 2:8 – (Paul is writing to the congregation at Ephesus) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, So that grace, is multiplied, if you will. We grow in that grace by the faith we develop. We express our faith by the works that we do. They’re all very connected aren’t they? You can only do that through expressing God’s love and living that, expressing it to others in a humble way. It all falls apart when any one of those elements is removed. They are all interdependent. Eph 2:8 – For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, That is, it is not of ourselves, we cannot demand it as I said earlier. We can’t obligate God in any form or fashion. Even if we could live a righteous life would that obligate God to give us salvation? The first time we sinned we’d lose that, wouldn’t we? And if we’re trying to live as the Pharisees did, to the letter of the law, then we’re not living for salvation are we? We’re living to justify ourselves and only God can justify us. I’d like to read something we wrote years back, a commentary in The United News. Christian teachers universally talk of grace but why do they vary in their teaching as to what should be done because of it? God’s grace involves the extension of a pardon, the suspension of a death penalty. It is only common sense as well as the teaching in the Bible that God expects the pardoned individual to be law abiding from that point on, submitting to His spiritual law.
Assuredly there is freedom in grace. It includes freedom from the death penalty as well as the expectation to live life the way God wants us to. Anything less is to demean this wonderful gift of God. Clearly grace does not include the freedom to break the law of God because His law reveals the way to an abundant life as well as spiritual conversion. Another simple illustration perhaps would be someone convicted and sentenced to prison. Typically in this country, with the exception of a few aspects such as premeditated murder and such, you serve a sentence but can reduce that through good behavior or other circumstances. Now it doesn’t end if you get out early, it doesn’t mean that your sentence is paid for but that you’re on parole. They’re going to give you the opportunity to show that you’ve learned your lesson. But that parole has certain stipulations doesn’t it? It may be that they have to wear an ankle bracelet, a monitor and they have to stay within a certain radius of their house. It could be that they can’t live in certain neighborhoods or they have to stay out of certain businesses if they were convicted of burglary. Any number of things can be a stipulation for the pardon. In almost every state, you can’t leave the state unless you tell the authorities that you’re leaving the state and get permission. This is part of what’s being talked about by this author, that if God extends to us a pardon, if He gives us grace, shows favor to us, for us turning and beginning to live His way of life, it doesn’t mean then that we are free to do what we want. That is what Martin Luther missed in the book of James, why he was completely flummoxed by it.
In his mind grace was multiplied then. The more you sinned the more God had to forgive you. How many friends do you have that you would put up with that? The more they abuse the friendship, the more you like them? It doesn’t work does it, even on a human level. Why would we expect God to put up with that? The One who created us, the One who sustains us, the One who protects us and heals us. He gives us everything in life, simply asks us to live a certain way because He knows that will lead to eternal life. The grace that He extends to us is so that we can do that. We can have opportunity to live that, to put our foot on that path and begin to develop that in our lives. All of those elements work together in the same equation: Faith and works, God’s grace, His forgiveness, Christ’s blood. Going back to what I talked about earlier, you remove any one of those elements and none of it works. God’s way of life is a package. Our faith and subsequence obedience is a necessary part of not only receiving that grace but continuing in it. And the more we humble ourselves, the more we apply the works to show the faith, the more grace we show God that we have, that we build, that we develop. If you want a summary of grace, here’s my summary: It’s God’s love for us and our obedience to show our love back to Him. If we look at that simple summary then, it would be easy to see how we’re to grow in that. We understand growing in love. Those of you who are parents, the first time you hold that child in your arms there’s nothing like that, is there? This new life that you were part of, does that love never change and grow then as they mature physically? You see their accomplishments, see their personality come out, you see the intelligence, the likes, whatever it is. I think it’s very similar for God and us. He wants to see that love grown between us. And that favor He extends to us is not so we can then abuse the relationship but so that we will understand more the aspects of obedience and faith.
Let’s go back then to 2 Peter 3:18. I started out by asking the question, how do we grow in grace and this is the verse that I believe I started with. 2 Peter 3:18 – Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It’s not just any kind of grace, it’s not just any kind of knowledge, it’s knowledge in God, knowledge in how Christ lived and if we emulate that then it really should be simple to see. The favor that He extended to those in his physical lifetime, the favor He extended to Israel as the God of the Old Testament, the favor that He continues to show us. As we walk and stumble then pick ourselves up, then walk some more and stumble, we come back time after time after time asking for forgiveness and the favor He gives us as we continue moving forward. Grace is not simply taking God’s forgiveness and not repenting and changing. It’s the opposite. Grace is about living worthy of forgiveness and growing in that forgiveness as we see additional sins in our life, doing better and better at becoming more like Him and His Son. That involves repentance, that involves obedience, that involves humility, and that involves growing in His love.
Grace is about taking that forgiveness that God gives us and extending it to others. Grace is living God’s way of life of love and peace and harmony and humility and forgiveness. Grace is joy in God and His way of life. There’s nothing more sad, in my estimation, than to see someone grow weary with well doing. It should never be that way, that the joy you and I have at baptism, when God first begins to call us and we understand His truth and His calling – that should just be the starting point. Because God extends His grace to us we are to build on His love and favor and to live a more sincere life. Grace is really not a complicated topic when we put it in simple terms of God’s love for us and our obedience to show love back to Him. Let’s then continue to grow in grace and knowledge.