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 ESV)

The Spirit works in our lives instantly if we are believers. One second of surrender brings instant transformation, the type that recreates the personality of God. We receive this new nature at the new birth, as we read: “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).

This being true, what need do we have of a doctrine of spiritual growth? If we receive everything instantly upon complete and total surrender, then that takes away the need for strivings and moanings and groanings and effort.

There is a teaching among some Christians that says exactly that, that all we need to do is to “let go and let God.” We should die to sin and to self, “reckon yourselves dead and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11), and simply surrender our hearts to Him. Some have likened this teaching to some type of “spiritual magic” that instantly transforms us without our own thoughts being involved.

But though the Bible does teach transformation by the Spirit, it never removes this issue of growth. And, in fact, because the work of the Spirit in our lives is a living work – Christ came to bring us life – we will by the very nature of all of life be constantly growing. That which is alive grows and that which does not grow is dead.

Instant receiving, yes, but coupled with that is constant growth. The thing we receive is life and life must always grow. And growth takes time. Miles Stanford wrote:

It seems that most believers have difficulty in realizing and facing up to the inexorable fact that God does not hurry in His development of our Christian life. He is working from and for eternity! So many feel they are not making progress unless they are. swiftly and constantly forging ahead. Now it is true that the new convert often begins and continues for some time at a fast rate. But this will not continue if there is to be healthy growth and ultimate maturity. God Himself will modify the pace. This is important to see, since in most instances when seeming declension begins to set in, it is not, as so many think, a matter of backsliding.(fromĀ The Principles of Spiritual Growth)

In an idyllic setting we may experience a sudden gift of grace that instantly changes everything about us. We may feel that we are one with the Lord and nothing will ever be the same again. But then we leave that setting eventually and go back into the world, or into a carnal Christian environment. There we need the solidifying growth that comes through constantly focusing on Christ and on His grace.

The scriptural illustration of this is when Jesus and the inner circle of His disciples, Peter, James, and John, were on the Mount of Transfiguration, experiencing the vision of Christ’s holiness. But then they left the mountain and went down into the valley where the other disciples were dealing with a demoniac, and not doing a very good job of it, by the way. (Matthew 17:1-20). Most of us can identify with both of these experiences.

The Holy Spirit by Peter commands us not to grow around the grace of God, not to try and bypass the need of God’s strength and grace in order to grow by our own wits or efforts. Rather He commands us to grow “in the grace” of God. The Transfiguration experience was never downplayed, rather it was seen for what it was – a grace experience that began this work of God in the lives of the three disciples. Peter wrote about it in the very epistle that our text above comes from and says, “We were eye witnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter. 1:16). It was a grace experience and they grew in that grace.

And that is how we are to grow. We are to take the knowledge of God and the ministry of the Spirit in our lives and treasure them. We are to grow in His grace – unmerited favor. We do not earn our spiritual growth. We receive it by grace and it is our part to be constantly and regularly connected to Him and to His love. We grow in our awareness of our dependence on Him, in the distrust of ourselves and our sinful nature, and in the confidence that He fulfills His promises to us.

This should be the passion of our lives – not the receiving of human recognition, or positions and respect by others, but the knowledge of our own hearts that we are being transformed into His likeness. Like the rings of a tree, the quick “summer growth” is wonderful to receive, but it is the tougher “winter growth” that hardens our souls and makes us resilient and strong. But it is all by grace, by remaining attached to Christ, and not to trust in ourselves.

 

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