Growing in Maturity???

What does it mean for us to genuinely grow into maturity? When I came into this world, I was helpless. My mom had to feed me, clothe me, change me, and keep me safe. I could not communicate. I had no knowledge except for that instinctive knowledge we all have when we are born that is supplied by God. I had to learn to balance myself to walk. I had to learn the culture that I was born into. I had nothing. Thanks to a mom who was willing to raise me up when I could not raise myself, I am who I am today. I have grown in maturity despite the depravity of my newborn condition more than 27 years ago. We were all unable to come to Christ. God, because of His grace as described within the doctrine of election, chose to raise up His people despite the depravity of their sinful condition. Salvation is a gift from God’s grace and is always followed by a growing in the maturity of the faith. Just as my mom raised me into the maturity of manhood, so God our Father raises us into the maturity of Christ. It hurts and forces us to always be learning something fresh and to always be maturing in our conduct under Christ. This is sanctification. Peter wrote his second letter to address false teaching amidst God’s elect people. Sound doctrine was so important that, with his dying breath, Peter rebuked teachers of unsound doctrine and encouraged the elect to continue in the way of truth, concerning both knowledge and conduct. What does it mean for us, as children of God, to genuinely grow in the maturity of Christ?
2 Peter 1:4-11 HCSB

By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing from his past sins. Therefore, brothers, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied to you.

The goal

 The very first thing Peter does in his second letter, which is almost an expounding on the last chapter of his first letter, is highlight the goal of sound doctrine, both orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxis (right conduct and practice). So, I ask Peter, “Why should we pursue sound doctrine with everything we have?” Why should our youth pursue sound doctrine before entertainment? Why do we have biblical teaching in the church? Why is it important, in light of 1 Peter 5, to have people who are wholly dedicated to the prayerful study and deliverance of God’s Word? Why does God’s instruction matter in our lives holistically? Is it so we can grow in knowledge alone? Is it so we can check a quiet time or church service off of our to-do list? Is it so we can please God and somehow earn His grace?

 For our purposes, I will begin on the tail end of the text at hand. The reason Peter gives is not that we would please God and somehow earn His grace. For, Peter began with election in his first letter. Even though we were incapable of coming to Christ, God draws those whom He has chosen according to His knowledge, purpose and perfect will to Himself. This is grace, and it means that there is no way that we can possibly earn the grace of God. It must be given and God is the giver. It is not that we would grow more intelligent, though Peter does encourage our growing in knowledge in this text. It is not so we can look like a Christian by checking off the good ‘Christian’ to-do’s. The sole reason Peter states that we ought to pursue sound doctrine, orthodoxy and orthopraxis, is so that our election will be confirmed, made sure, or made evident; that God’s children would not stumble.

 Here, we run into a predicament within the text of Scripture. As we have seen, Christ promises that those who remain in Him and in His instruction will bear much fruit. We saw this in John 15. Within Scripture, there exists, apparently, a great battle between faith and works. Either God’s grace and blessing is a gift that is freely given, or we have to earn some degree of blessing by our obedience. Either we ignore portions of Scripture and become legalists, or we ignore the other portions and forget about the importance of doctrine altogether. We expend much of our time trying to reconcile the fact that God’s grace is free and works are required. Dare I say, here, that this is only a problem if we imagine first that we are sovereign. Peter is so clear about this. Our obedience is a confirmation of our election. Without God’s election, we are incapable of honoring God. God chooses us and brings us into maturity. Without the doctrine of election, we are left trying to reconcile faith and works. With the doctrine of election in place, we realize that both salvation and sanctification are works of God in us. Those who are elect will grow into the maturity of the faith and their election will be confirmed. We pursue sound doctrine because God, in us, draws us to consider His Word important enough to learn deeply and apply deeply in our lives; that we might not fall in this sinful and rebellious world. Obedience, then, is the confirmation of election and does not itself bring about election or the bearing of much fruit. Even according to John 15, it is Christ who brings about the fruit, not us. This is a work of God, and we get to be partakers in the very glory of God in this way!

 Peter adds to this that to those who are elect and make that election sure (this is the same work), entrance will be supplied abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This means that apart from Christ, no one can enter this everlasting kingdom. Those who are in Christ and who, consequently, commit themselves to sound doctrine in knowledge and practice, will have an everlasting place with Christ! I believe we will be rewarded in this everlasting kingdom according to the degree of our obedience to Christ. If we chose to continue in our rebellion despite God’s sanctifying work, we are either lost (likely the case if we are never under conviction or always defending ourselves) or will gain no reward except for mere salvation (1 Corinthians 3).
The means

 What strikes me, here, is that Peter does not give a method for how we can make our election sure or a method by which we can please God. There is much freedom in our operation, but there is a means by which we can pursue maturity in the faith by God’s grace. Peter does not give a method for our faith or a ritualistic system. Instead, he provides a basic means of our sanctification by which we can actively participate in God’s work of election through sanctification.

 “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (v. 5-7).

 Because those who are elect get to share in the divine nature, they should make every effort to supplement their faith. This is the means by which we grow in maturity. It takes a conscious effort. It takes an investment in our time, energy, passion, and money. It takes personal sacrifice because we, indeed, have to give up some stuff in order to rightly pursue Christ. If we truly belong to Christ, it seems that we are willing.

 We supplement our faith with goodness. Our faith in Christ, because it is a work of Christ, means that we are actually able to genuinely love others because we are of equal value (not one having anything to offer the God of the universe and all being entirely depraved without Christ). Thus, we are free to be good to people without condemning them. We supplement our goodness with knowledge. We are free to admit that we don’t know everything and constantly pursue a greater understanding, which God has provided through special revelation (His Word) and through general revelation (in nature). Because of God’s election, we are free to pursue greater knowledge, learning things that we did not know previously. We don’t have to get stuck at our current level of knowledge or understanding. We supplement our knowledge with self-control. If God is sovereign and salvation is a work of Christ, we can be disciplined in our knowledge. Disagreements do not necessitate conflict. Furthermore, we can begin to apply our godly knowledge to our lives in practice and conduct and operation. Without election, we are slaves to our own minds and are stuck trying to get people to see things our own way or to act in our own wisdom, which is foolishness in light of the Gospel.

 I heard a ‘preacher’ on the radio this week, as I was driving cross-country, applying 2 Chronicles 7:14 to the political atmosphere of our nation today. 2 Chronicles 7:12-14 makes this statement from the Lord:

Then the LORD appeared to Solomon at night and said to him: I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a temple of sacrifice. If I close the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the grasshopper to consume the land, or if I send pestilence on My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.

 He applied in in such a way that God depended on the prayers and obedience of His people. In context, God was issuing punishment against His people because they had turned from Him. The prayer was a prayer of repentance and of recommitment to the Lord. It had very little to do with the political atmosphere of the United States, and everything to do with God’s people maintaining a heart of repentance. The scripture takes all of the power away from people and recognizes God as sovereign, which is the opposite of what the radio preacher claimed. If we repent, God relents His punishment for our sin. It is an application that is not made to the kingdoms of the world, but specifically to the church today. That is the application. The preacher was trying to argue people into being better Christians, and went further to try and argue the entire nation into submission under a legalistic ‘christianity.’ The reality is that this is God’s work. We have the freedom in Christ to participate. Without Christ’s leadership, we are stuck in the wisdom of the world and stuck trying to fix all of our problems on our own. Without the diligent application of godly knowledge, as found in Scripture, churches are stuck trying to figure out how to genuinely reach a younger generation while constantly failing to do so. I will tell you now how we reach my generation (mellinials) and generation z as the generation ages: we pursue sound doctrine in knowledge and practice, and trust God, in election, to build His kingdom. Any other means will produce ingenuine disciples. Quantitative growth will be in vain if any growth is achieved at all.
The reward

 Peter states that this is the way that entry into Christ’s everlasting kingdom is supplied to those who are elect and those who make their election sure. Notice, here, that we are recipients of this promise. This promise is something that is being carried out in us and not something that we are bringing about in ourselves, for we are incapable. In God’s work of election, we are saved, sanctified, and brought abundantly into eternal life. At the same time, we have the responsibility to follow the conviction of the Holy Spirit and partake in this great promise. The promise is just as sure as our election. Those who are in Christ will be a part of Christ’s everlasting kingdom. Amen and amen!

 This is not the end, though. We remember that Peter wrote this letter to address false teachers. This means that there were some, even in Peter’s day, who were teaching and exemplifying heresies that were destructive to the church. Peter wrote this letter with his dying breath (at least in his last years). He had to emphasize sound doctrine because the organizational church was already falling from sound doctrine. This means that it is very easy for us to turn from Christ and toward ourselves. As we continue in 2 Peter, we will heed this warning together. If we consider the doctrine of election, evidence from Peter will insist that those who are okay with doctrine that is unsound (teaching that is revealed to be false in light of Scripture), do not belong to Christ. This being stated, I want to highlight how teaching out to be tested to see if it is false or not.

 First, John, the elder and the apostle, wrote this in respect to our current conversation:

 “My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world. This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” yet doesn’t keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him” (1 John 2:1-5 HCSB).

 He continues in the same letter:

 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist; you have heard that he is coming, and he is already in the world now.

 So, 1) there are false prophets who spread false teaching, 2) we test the teaching to see if the teacher professes Christ, 3) to profess Christ is to actually have Jesus as Lord and not self (John 3:16). We know, also according to John’s first letter, that only the profession of the mouth is not good enough as we test those who teach. In light of the beautiful doctrine of election, we cannot deny that God desires strongly that we receive His Word the way that He has given it. Why would we want anything else? What does it mean that we are growing in maturity? It means we are faithfully receiving sound doctrine in knowledge and faithfully applying that godly knowledge to our lives. Indeed, if we belong to Christ, we are being sanctified! Let us not forget that Jesus, in His own words, said that “My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). The question, then, is this: will we resist the Holy Spirit’s conviction in our lives or will we follow hard after Christ and so receive a greater reward according to God’s great grace? This is a question that I leave for you (and myself) to think on and answer. 

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