The Main Ingredient in Personal Growth

Grow in grace. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better three-word caption for the Christian life. It stems from a single text at the end of Peter’s second letter:

Take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:17–18)

Growing in grace has a context, and it’s not neutral. We are not given the option either to grow or stay the same, but to grow or be carried away. Grow or lose your stability. Grow in Christ or lose him altogether.

Make It (More) Personal

The aggressive sway of this sin-sick world, and the power of the Spirit within us, affords Christians no place for standing still. We’re either growing or shriveling. Either being carried forward by grace or carried away from the truth.

“We are not given the option either to grow or stay the same, but to grow or be carried away.”

True stability in the Christian life comes not from planting two feet and holding fast, but from putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward, one grace-empowered step at a time. A stable Christian is a growing Christian.

And such growth in grace is always personal: “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” This is not the knowledge of books and facts, but knowing a person. Christian stability and maturity happen not merely by learning doctrines, but by knowing a real person in and through doctrines — growing into Christ (Ephesians 4:15–16) and holding fast to him (Colossians 2:19).

But how do we grow into Christ by grace?

Pure Spiritual Milk

When we pay close attention to the context of 2 Peter 3:18, and turn to the one other place where Peter talks explicitly about growth, we glean one clear and essential principle for what it means to grow in grace:

Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1–3)

We pick up a how of this growth in grace, or a main ingredient. Peter calls it “the pure spiritual milk.” What our Bibles have as chapter 2 flows immediately from the end of chapter 1, which makes the reference of “pure spiritual milk” plain: “the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). But what does Peter mean by “the living and abiding word”?

God’s Word in the Gospel

First, just two verses later, Peter says, “This word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25). First and foremost, “the pure spiritual milk” by which we grow in grace is what we know as “the gospel” — the message of God’s goodness toward us in Christ. Despite our sin and endless failings, God has shown us love, and made a way for us to be right with him, through the sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection of his own Son. In Jesus, God is fully and finally for us.

“Saying the same old truths, in the same old ways, will betray their richness and beauty.”

We grow in grace not by moving on from this good news that was preached to us, but by going deeper and deeper into that astonishing message. Christians mature not by moving on from the gospel into “deeper truths,” but by sending our roots deeper and deeper into the simple and unfathomable gospel of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness toward us.

But how will we, in grace, “grow up into salvation” by the gospel? Just parroting to ourselves a few simple lines of gospel summary over and over each day will not carry a soul in the long run. Canned, stale expressions of God’s goodness to us in Christ won’t feed and energize us for very long. Saying the same old truths, in the same old ways, will betray their richness and beauty. How will this gospel stay fresh to our souls? The second side of Peter’s “living and abiding word.”

God’s Word in the Apostles and Prophets

Peter knows that simply preaching the gospel to ourselves, with no fresh inputs, will soon run its course. His “pure spiritual milk” invites us into a rich theology of God’s word and grace toward us, which brings us back to the end of his second letter. What kind of “word” is in view when Peter makes his “grow in grace” statement in 2 Peter 3:18? The words of God in Scripture.

Peter has just mentioned Paul’s letters, “which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15–16). The unstable twist the Scriptures. But those who are stable and mature, growing in grace, do not twist the Scriptures, but take them as what they are — the very words of God — and feed their souls on them. They receive God’s words as grace from God, not as burdensome, and find them life-giving, not life-depleting. Many “lovers of grace” tragically neglect God’s primary means of grace — his words — in the name of “grace.” In doing so, they forfeit and diminish the very grace they claim to love and live by.

“A stable Christian is a growing Christian.”

Peter gives us his summary of God’s “word,” old and new: “Remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). Prophets and apostles. Old Testament and New. God means for us to grow in grace by rehearsing what God himself promised through his prophets and now has fulfilled in his crucified and risen Son and revealed through his appointed spokesmen, the apostles.

God gave us a sizable Book full of predictions and fulfillments, full of promises and directives, full of grace and truth, that we might grow in grace.

Grace of Words, Words of Grace

The apostle Peter, and the living Christ through him, hasn’t left us without direction for how to “grow in grace.” God has given us his own word — in the gospel of his Son and in the Scriptures of his Book — all to be received together in the community of his church (1 Peter 2:5, 9–10; Ephesians 2:19–22). Yes, indeed, in Christ you will grow. You must. The Christian life never stands still. And God hasn’t left us without an abundance of grace for precisely that — in his word.

No matter how prone we may be to pit the grace of God and the word of God against each other, they always go together. Hearing the voice of our God in his word is never at odds with living by his grace. And true grace never shuts the mouth of God or stops our ears to his words. What priceless grace that God speaks to us and reveals himself, his Son, and his will for us. Living in light of his grace is never at odds with hearing him speak in his word.

We will experience no lasting and genuine growth in the faith without the main ingredient of God’s living and abiding word.