1 Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: 2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. 4 Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
It was John Wesley who was first credited with asking that searching question, “How goes it with your soul?” It’s a question we should be regularly asking of ourselves, because the blessings we enjoy as Christians go far beyond our salvation. There should also be ongoing renewal and growth in our spiritual maturity. Our salvation means more than where we will be spending eternity – it affects (or at least should affect) every aspect of our lives here and now.
Just as a healthy physical life is one of growth, so a healthy spiritual life is a process of growth, but unlike physical growth, our developing spiritual maturity does not come automatically or naturally. In order to grow our faith, we need to choose to grow, because sadly, not all Christians grow spiritually.
Many have been Christians for years, but with little change or improvement in their spiritual maturity. If you really think about it, the radical changes that Jesus brings into the life of a Christian should be spotted a mile away. We should stick out like sore thumbs because we are now so different from our old selves. God doesn’t just make us better people – He makes us into new creations. That’s the theory anyway, but there are many people who are Christians or who claim to be, but there is little or no evidence of those changes in their lives.
Lots of Christians fail to grow and their faith stagnates or even weakens because spiritual growth is a choice.
Unlike physical growth it doesn’t happen by default. Much like emotional maturity, spiritual growth occurs only when we choose to grow. If we don’t make that choice, and stick to it, there will be no spiritual growth in our lives.
Interestingly enough, spiritual growth is not an optional extra for Christians. It is commanded by God, and is implicitly stated in the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” We are given the instruction to make disciples and to teach them. The implication here is that as we teach or are taught by others, we will grow in our knowledge of God and our faith in Him.
There’s an old illustration you’ve probably heard before of two people doing the same job in the same company. The first person had been there for 10 years, but just did the job that was required. He took no initiative in learning more about the job than he needed to know. He just did what was expected of him and waited for payday each month. The second man had been there only 5 years and was doing the same job, but he took an interest in his work. He asked questions of his superiors and made it a priority to learn more about the company and their products. The time came for one of the managers to retire, so his position was advertised among the rest of the staff. Both men applied for the promotion, and the second man got the job. So the first man went to his boss and said, “That’s not fair. He’s got only 5 years’ experience, while I’ve got 10 years’ experience, so I should have been promoted.” His boss replied, “That’s where you’re wrong. You don’t have 10 years’ experience. You’ve got 1 years’ experience ten times. You’ve learned nothing and have made no effort to show any initiative or to grow.”
We need to deepen our walk of faith with Jesus. If you want to grow, you will. But you need to take the initiative of asking Him to do that.
Peter ends his second letter with a command to grow. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” In Philippians 3:10 Paul says, “I want to know Christ.” The Christian life is essentially about faith. Salvation is by faith in Christ alone, but the Christian faith is not only a matter of the heart. There is an intellectual side to our walk with Jesus too. As Peter says, we must grow in grace and in knowledge.
He begins his second letter by telling us how to grow: “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” He then goes on to tells us about the benefits of doing these things, and he also warns us what will happen if we don’t: “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.”
The words of Peter in his second letter are remarkably similar to what Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” It’s been mentioned before, but “fruit” in this verse is singular – not plural. So when we grow and mature in our faith, we will find ourselves growing in all of these individual qualities which make up the fruit of the Spirit.
Again, spiritual growth is not an optional extra for the Christian, and Hebrews 5 and 6 gives us a stern warning against what happens when we don’t choose to mature spiritually. “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.” (Hebrews 5:11-6:3)
The implication here is not that we will stay where we are if we don’t grow in our faith. We won’t be treading water or just be maintaining the status quo. Rather, if we’re not not growing, we’re actually regressing. We’re going backwards, and the flame of faith will be not much more than a flicker, and as we have seen all too often, it sometimes dies.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” What this means is that we have to take the responsibility for spiritual health. If we allow ourselves to drift we will find it easier and easier to be attracted to the things of the world once more, and at the same time we’ll find it harder and harder to get back to where we should be. We must learn to guard our hearts. The questions we simply must keep asking ourselves is, “How goes it with my soul?”
Spiritual growth is a not an option reserved only for a few select Christians. The Bible commands us to grow. It is a choice, but it is also something that takes dedication and effort.
What we need to remember is that because the human race has bought into the lies of satan, we have been fooled into believing that we are essentially good, and that we have no need for a Saviour. Yes, we do fall off the rails occasionally, but we are basically good, and with a few minor tweaks here and there and if we do our best to be a good person, we’ll be good enough to go to Heaven when we die. That is the greatest lie and the greatest deception in the history of humanity, and we have all fallen for it. And until such time as the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to us, we remain fooled. The first step towards salvation in Jesus is recognising just who we are – sinners who have offended a Holy God. We were created to spend eternity with Him, but sin has changed that, and it is only the sacrificial blood of Jesus that can redeem us from the consequences of our sin.
Everything within us is at war with that truth, and that is why it takes dedication and determination to grow in Christ. Relying on God instead of ourselves does not come naturally to the sinner. So spiritual growth requires a conscious choice.
Jesus said in John 6:27 that growth requires work. “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Notice that he doesn’t say work for your salvation. The work of salvation was done by Jesus, but what he is telling us to do is that now that we have this gift, we must apply it to our lives. Keep the faith and don’t give up. Being faithful to God and growing in our faith takes perseverance, as Paul wrote in the next chapter of Philippians: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14) Make no mistake – being a Christian is not easy. It takes hard work and dedication to remain faithful to Jesus when everything in the world and within ourselves too tries to deny our need for Him.
There is a crucial lesson we need to learn from John 6. Jesus had just been teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. He taught that He is the bread of life, and that salvation is possible only through Him. It is the same exclusive message which offends so many even to this day. We pick up the story from verse 60: “On hearing it, many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ Aware that His disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray Him. He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.’ From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:60-69)
There’s that choice again: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter had the right answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” When we are faced with the choice of following Jesus and growing in our faith, we must consider the alternative. With God we have everything, but without Him we have and we are nothing.
Now if all of this seems rather overwhelming, we can take comfort in the knowledge that although it is our choice to grow spiritually or not, when we do choose to mature in our faith, God is the one who gives us the tools we need to grow. Look at John 6:27 again: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
“Which the Son of Man will give you.” That is the key to spiritual growth.
God is not out there somewhere waiting to see if we can figure out this faith thing on our own, waiting for us to be spiritually mature enough to be good enough to meet His lofty standards. Remember, Jesus indwells each of us by His Spirit, so when we are called to “work out our salvation” as Paul puts it, we don’t do it alone.
We’ve already looked at Philippians 2:12: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Paul tells us how that is achieved in the very next verse: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”
Just as it was the work of Jesus on the cross that achieved our eternal salvation, so it is He who continues to work within us, refining our characters and transforming us daily into His likeness. In his opening statement in his letter to the Philippian Church Paul says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
We are able to take such tremendous encouragement from this truth. Remember that growing in grace and growing in our knowledge of God is unnatural for sinners like you and I. The world tells me, “It’s all about you, babe.” And how often and how foolishly do I believe that lie and I know that you do too, but thanks be to God – by His grace He has removed the veil and opened our eyes to the reality of how lost we are, and He has paid the price of our salvation, and our willingness and determination to grow in His grace and to grow in our knowledge of Him finds its source in Him!
It is He who strengthens us from within. There is that wonderful prayer for the Ephesian Church which you’ve heard me quote many times, because it fills us with such hope: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom His whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21)
There’s an excellent bumper sticker which I’m sure you’ve all seen: “Please be patient. God is not finished with me yet.” Spiritually we are works in progress, and perfection will only be realised when we finally see Jesus in the glory of eternity, but He is the one who walks with us today – encouraging, teaching, convicting and admonishing where necessary in order to transform us into the men and women of God He wants us to be.
As we grow in grace we experience the blessing of knowing we are His. His blessings magnify the joys of life and they bring a supernatural comfort in the sad and difficult times that this world just cannot offer us.
Returning to our reading from 2 Peter 1 again. In verse 5 he says, “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” So we need to make the effort. In verse 8 he writes, “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So again, it is up to us to make the choice to grow. It is a necessity of the Christian’s life, but just look at what he writes in verses 3 and 4: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” It is God who equips us and it is He who increases our faith! That’s the promise He makes to each of us.
So how goes it with your soul? I’m not asking about how your life is going right now, because our circumstances can change for the better or worse in the blink of an eye. Life is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride sometimes, but what about deep down inside?
Are you finding your peace and your purpose in life in Jesus? Are you growing in His grace and in the knowledge of Him who loves you with an immeasurable love?
Or are you just kind of drifting along? Have you lost that desire to walk closer with Him each day? It’s never too late to seek His face once more, because He always hears your prayers and He always answers.
May this be our prayer today: “Just a closer walk with Thee. Grant it Jesus, this my plea. Daily walking close with Thee, let it be, dear Lord, let it be.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Philippians 3:12-14
When talking about being faithful to God, Paul uses the analogy of an athlete straining towards the finishing line.
The implication is that it takes effort and hard work to grow in grace.
Why does spiritual growth not come as naturally as physical growth?
In which ways do you think we drift away from Jesus?
What are some of the warning signs and the consequences of not growing spiritually?
Share with your group some of the personal challenges which you face in your spiritual walk.
Describe a time in your life when you felt the closest to God.
- What do you think it was that created that special season in your life?
- Has your faith become stronger or weaker since then? Why?
Read John 6:27
Discuss the differences between the two types of food Jesus talks about in this verse.
Pay particular attention to “which the Son of Man will give you.”
How does Jesus equip us to grow in grace and in our knowledge of Him?
Close by using Ephesians 3:14-21 as a model for your prayer.