I remember my dad wanting to constantly take me into the garage when I was 14 to see how much I had grown. He would make a mark and write the date at every improvement. I remember feeling pressure every time, as if I had something to do with the process, and somehow I was failing if there was no difference since the last mark.
I think lots of time we treat spiritual growth this way. We feel pressure because the all to often indicator of spiritual growth is behavioral change and so we get discouraged if we are still struggling with that same sin.
Unfortunately, the most prominent measurement of growth used can actually be the most dangerous. Behavioral modification without heart transformation isn’t a sign of spiritual growth at all, but rather a sign that you’re just a really good actor. And all too often our motivation for cleaning up our act, isn’t to give glory to God and take hold of the promises of the Gospel, but instead to impress people by our apparent lack of need for grace. Scripture tells us that it is actually the gospel of grace that gives us a method, a measure, and our motivation for spiritual growth.
2 Peter 3:17-18 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 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.
In this epistle we find two commands concerning growth. Grow in the grace of Jesus Christ and the knowledge of Jesus. To grow in these areas most simply means to know Jesus and what He has done for you, as well as to receive it. The only way to grow in grace is to stop trying to justify it and start receiving it.
The Gospel gives us four promises to receive by the grace of God.
1. Adoption - We are children fully loved and accepted by our heavenly Father and through Jesus are adopted into His family
2. Justification - We are fully pardoned from the wrath of a holy God against our sin because Jesus took the punishment for our sin on the cross. We are now declared righteous because we stand in Jesus and His fulfillment of the Law.
3. Salvation - We are completely saved from the clutches of Satan, sin, hell, and death because through our justification in Jesus we get to share in eternal life with God.
4. Regeneration - We are given a whole new life and identity by the Holy Spirit who lives in us. We are walking away from our old self into a new creation; the promise to become like Jesus.
It is as we receive and believe these promises and reject the false promises of idols that we spiritually mature. In the act of repentance and faith, we turn our worship from created things, back to the Creator God and reaffirm that He is the one place our true satisfaction and joy comes from. Accepting what’s true and denying what’s false is the weeding out process of spiritual growth. It is not perfection overnight, but rather perseverance over a lifetime.
Our assessment of spiritual growth must go much deeper than just change in physical action. A measure of this sort would only set us up for legalism and trying to earn God’s favor by our own efforts.
A look deeper into the heart would reveal a better picture of the growth process taking place. For a heart that recognizes sin and repents of it, is growing. There may be a long path of recovery ahead. Addictions are not always easily broken, and there are residual effects of sin. But the heart that understands grace and runs to the Father in repentance and faith; faith that Jesus accomplished everything on the cross to cover that sin, is a heart that understands the Gospel.
Simple behavior modification is so dangerous because it becomes a false god all its own. It allows us to buy the lie that we can earn our standing with God, and that in our own effort we can improve our spiritual condition. Apart from the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, nothing can be done about our sin. We may be able to dress up the exterior, but it is only a cover for the worship of self and moralism going on in our hearts.
True spiritual growth is measured by seeing our hearts become aware of our sin and turning from it, putting our affection and worship back where it belongs; in the God of the universe.
True, long-lasting growth, can only be sustained if it is rooted in our relationship with God, driven by the Holy Spirit. As we reject what is false and hold fast to what is true, our affection for God deepens, understanding that He is protecting us from the pain and empty deceit of false gods.
We begin to realize that God’s glory and our joy are not mutually exclusive. Rather, God knows that our choosing Him over false gods, brings us deep satisfying joy, and brings glory to God. God is leading us into joy which deepens our affection for Him and our motivation to continue letting go of the idols in our lives, and taking hold of the promises of the Gospel.
Spiritual growth is a process. It is the process of faith and repentance. As we reject the false gods of sex, money, hate, power, success, and relationships, we affirm the reality that we were created to find eternal satisfaction and joy in the Creator God. It does not happen over night, but happens as we pursue receiving grace and growing in knowing Jesus and what He has already accomplished for us on the cross.
The process is not an easy one. Choices that we have made have consequences. In Christ we are completely forgiven, but as we walk away from sin we will have to walk back through the mess we have created. It is a difficult journey, but the destination far out weighs the struggle.
Philippians 1:6 reminds us of that promise. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Our spiritual growth and transformation into the image of Jesus, is a promise guaranteed by the work of Christ on the cross. We can endure the process, because the promise is so great.
For the King tomorrow night at 8 pm in the Scandinavian Cultural Center at PLU. Everyone is welcome. See you there.
A recap of For the King last Friday night at Pacific Lutheran University. We had a great time of worship and being reminded of the promises of the Gospel. Namely, that our identity rests in Jesus and His finished work on the cross.
Getting ready for For the King this Friday 10/7 in the Cave at 8 pm. Bring your friends and come out for a great night as we look at the idea of identity.
Come out to the October FTK on the 7th in the Cave at Pacific Lutheran University. We’re going to celebrate the gospel of Jesus and what He is doing in the greater Tacoma area. Jeff Bethke, from the Sexual Healing poem on youtube, will be joining us to debut a new poem. It promises to be a great night and we would love to have you there. Doors open at 7:30 and we’ll beging at 8 pm.
1. We are Harmful - Forwe ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another
This list should not make us proud to be a part of the human race. Our sin is continually damaging relationships with others and with God. Sin separates us from God and puts us in need of a remedy.
Often times we pursue great passions and pleasures that are God given gifts to enjoy. Athletics, academics, jobs, money, and relationships are all great things given to us by God for His glory and our enjoyment. All too often though, we begin to worship them instead of God Himself. We begin to put our hope in these things because they receive our time, energy, and affection.
Unfortunately, they were not designed to be objects of hope because they are finite, and imperfect. When they fail us, we feel as though the carpet has been ripped from under our feet and our world is turned upside down. It is in these moments we feel lost and hopeless because the security we were trusting in is gone.
2. We are Helpless - not because of works done by us in righteousness, butaccording to his own mercy.
Scripture makes it very clear that we cannot save ourselves. Good works and deeds do not simply cancel the sin we have committed. In the law system God ordained, a sacrifice is necessary to cover sin, which is one we are unable to make. Therefore we find ourselves in a situation where we can’t even help ourselves. Romans 3 tells us that no one will be made right by works of the Law.
Because of our decision to worship created things as ultimate and the inability to save ourselves we are left in quite the hole; separated from God by our sin, and unable to fix the mess we have created.
3. We are Hopeful - whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
We find great hope in that fact that Jesus has paid our debt in full. He looked through the tunnel of history 2,000 years ago, and seeing our mess, willingly died on the cross to free us from the bondage of sin. In a hole we couldn’t climb out of, Jesus lifts us and restores our relationship with God. He graciously offers forgiveness to all who believe in Him.
Jesus is our greatest hope, because unlike other things we hope in, He is guaranteed. He’s not like our favorite sports team that we hope might win the game. He’s not like hoping that it will be sunny in Seattle. The Greek for hope used in the book of Hebrews tells us He is our anchor. He’s unmovable. Our rock that is faithful and true. Put your hope in Jesus, and trust that when He said, “It is finished.” He meant it. In Jesus, God sees you as His perfect Son, and you are welcomed in as such, no matter where you have been, or what you have done.