Over the past few years, we have seen a huge increase in conversation and interest in the gospel. This should be celebrated and encouraged to continue. Yet what is often missing from this conversation is the need for steady and slow growth in grace over the long haul. While talking about the grace of God is vital for the Christian, growing deep and wide in the gospel is equally essential since it isn’t enough to ask the question, “What is the gospel?” without also asking, “What does the gospel demand?” Believing the gospel requires living in light of and for the gospel. This means we are to grow deep and wide in the grace of God. By that, I mean we are to become what we are in Christ, united with Him, because of what He has done for us in His death, burial and resurrection. This is our motivation to grow in godly character as Christians.
Peter sets this forth in 2 Peter 1:5-10,
“ For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers,be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”
Here, Peter urges believers to “make every effort” (v.5) to corroborate their faith with behavior consistent with the “qualities” (vv.8-9) of those who are being sanctified by the Spirit. The gospel is not opposed to effort but to earning. Paul, too, could put grace and hard work side by side (1 Cor. 15:10). In contrast to the passion akin to animal instinct that Peter will condemn in in 2 Peter 2:12 where he urges believers to live in accordance with their transformed hearts. What we do should flow from who we are in Christ.
Jesus Himself talked about defilement coming from the inside to the outside, instead of the other way around (Mark 7:14-15). He narrowed down the source of murder and adultery to heart passions (Matthew 5:21-30). That is, he highlighted the roles of desire and objects of idolatrous worship in causing sin. He knew that unless a person’s heart is changed, his or her behavior cannot honor God (Matthew 23:27). This is the difficult and deceptive reality that Peter will address in 2 Peter 2:20-22. He concludes his list of virtues in 2 Peter 1:9 with, “whoever lacks these qualities” has “forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” The cultivation of godly virtue comes, according to Peter, as we remember the gospel cleansing our sins. The gospel is not something we move past; it is something we remember and enjoy our whole lives long. It is grace that changes us from the inside out.
Thomas Goodwin said, “The things of the gospel are depths—the things of the gospel are the deep things of God.” The point Goodwin makes is an excellent one and goes to show what I’m trying to communicate in this article, namely that we don’t graduate beyond the gospel but rather grow deeper and wider in our knowledge, understanding and experience of the gospel.
Who we are precedes what we do. Oftentimes people talk about what they are doing for God but never about what God is doing in their own lives. I had a wise friend who used to always ask me, “What is God doing in your life?” What this friend wanted to know was what God was teaching me, personally, in my own time and what was my experience with Him. We need friends like this, friends who will help us to come to see ourselves as we ought—sinners in need of His grace. We never graduate from our need for grace but only grow in our need for Him. The more we grow in His grace, the more His character is formed in us. This is Peter’s point in 2 Peter 1:5-10.
One pivotal moment in my Christian life happened sitting on my floor as a young seventeen year old teenager. I sat there on the floor reading my Bible and realized that I hadn’t forgiven my dad for some hurt he had caused. Instead, I held a grudge against him for quite some time. But as I read the Word of God, the Lord pierced my heart with His Word. The result of this was conviction of my sin and growth in His grace. The next day, my father and I took a walk and I told him I asked him to forgive me for holding a grudge against him. He accepted my apology and also asked for forgiveness. This is what it means to grow in godly character: it means growing in honesty and authenticity about where we are in our growth in Christ. To do this, we must see and acknowledge our ongoing need of His grace.
Second Peter 1:8 says,
“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers,be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”
Lots of people talk about how to be effective for Christ but very few talk about growing in godly character. It is because we are growing in grace that we will display godly character and thus be effective for Him. Here’s the true secret to effectiveness in ministry for Jesus: There is no secret! The Word of God is clear that our spiritual growth matters because it is godly character that God looks for in His servants. God uses men and women of godly character to impact the world for Christ. This is exactly Peter’s point in 2 Peter 1:8-10, namely that we must grow increasingly in reflecting Him in the world because He has called sinners out of darkness and into His marvelous light by transferring sinners from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus.
Christians, let us not be “nearsighted”, “lacking” or “forgetful that he has cleansed from his former sins.” Rather, let us be “diligent to confirm ourcalling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” Because Christ has washed us in His blood and thrown our sins into an ocean of forgiveness, we can grow in the grace of God . Jonathan Edwards is right, “God doesn’t choose men because they are excellent, but He makes them excellent because he has chosen them.”
Grow in the gospel, for such growth will mean that you are growing deep and wide in Him since the gospel are the depths of God. As you grow in His grace, you will grow in godly character as you continue to repent of your sin until either the day King Jesus returns or the day that you die and your sanctification is completed. Until then, you and I have sin to repent of. Let us, by His grace, repent of our sin, grow into the depths of the gospel and reflect His grace by being men and women of godly character. In doing so, we will be effective and useful servants who radiate the splendor of God to the nations. Then, we will not only be able to answer the question, “What is the gospel and what does the gospel demand?,” but we will be actively growing deep and wide in the grace of God, all to the glory of God.