In 2 Peter 3:18, the apostle Peter encourages us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Often, we only understand grace in the context of what was accomplished in Christ and given to us freely by God. There is another dimension to grace that we often ignore. Grace is also a Christian virtue; it is that which enables us to do good or have an attitude towards doing good or doing what is right. Peter encourages Christians to grow or mature in this area of their lives. The spiritually mature believer will have a particular attitude or disposition towards life’s circumstances and the people with whom they have to share the world.
Knowledge and church doctrine are important elements of our faith, but sometimes we emphasize them so much that we forget that growing in grace is also a key ingredient in our walk with God. What does it mean to grow in grace? It is to be spiritually mature as Christians, where we can exercise patience, humility, self-denial, love, and the kindness of Jesus Christ while contending with various situations and people daily. Peter deliberately couples growing in grace with having knowledge of God because they work so well together. Growing in grace can only take place through the practical application of God’s word when we are required to show more of Christ and less of what our human nature desires.
As we grow older and hopefully more mature, I realize it is easy to become offended, hurt, and rejected. Our natural instinct in these situations is to react in an attempt to defend ourselves. When we have grown in the grace of God, we will replace our desire to react with the peace of God that Paul talks about in Philippians 4:6. Notice he does not say the peace of God will relieve us from having to deal with painful emotions caused by circumstances. What he says is that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ. It is this peace that will enable us to exist without bitterness among the very people who are motivated to destroy us.
Growing in grace means we come to that place where we understand that there is little to be gained from reacting to everything and everybody. In Romans 12:18, the responsibility to be at peace with everyone places a greater burden on the peacemaker and not the offender. The Christian, who can maintain humility and exude the meekness of Jesus, though capable of creating mass destruction, has indeed grown in grace. As we grow in spiritual maturity, we come to appreciate the power of letting go of things that don’t bring us joy.
In the Sermon on the Mount, which I call the message of the upside-down kingdom (Matthew 5:44), Jesus says to bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you. That, my friends, requires possessing a spirit that has grown in grace. If someone tries to destroy us, we are inclined to work to destroy them. Growing in grace demands we react from a heavenly place where the heart of Christ is elevated above earthly emotions. It is not easy because the heart usually wants what the heart wants, and most of the time it wants satisfaction at the expense of everything noble. If we are to grow in grace, we have to learn how to die to ourselves. When we die to ourselves, the transformation that will help us grow in grace will begin.
Growing in the grace of Christ is an exceptional Christian virtue. It is not so much about what we do as it is about what we allow God to do in us. Growing in grace helps us break free from the chains that have always kept us on the defensive. When we grow in Christ, we understand that God will always have our backs, no matter how dismal or threatening the situation.