Taking the Next Step

2 Peter 1:3-9

April 6, 2008 | Brian Bill

Charlie Brown is at bat and strikes out again.  As he trudges back to the bench, he laments: “Rats!  I’ll never be a big-league player.  I just don’t have it!  All my life I’ve dreamed of playing in the big leagues, but I know I’ll never make it. Lucy turns to console him: “Charlie Brown, you’re thinking too far ahead.  What you need to do is set some more immediate goals. He looks up and asks, “Immediate goals?  Lucy says, “Yes.  Start with this next inning when you go out to pitch.  See if you can walk out to the mound without falling down!”

Do you ever feel like that spiritually?  Many of us wonder if we’ll ever be in the “big leagues” with our Christian faith.  Perhaps you feel like you’ve struck out so many times that you don’t think you can take another step because you’re afraid of falling down again.

As we kick off a new series today called “Growing in Grace,” I want to pass along two significant findings from the Reveal Spiritual Life Survey that 220 people took this past November. 

  • 18% of those who took the survey reported that they are “spiritually stalled.”  While this seems high, it’s actually better than the 22% who are stalled for the rest of the sample of 200 other churches made up of 57,000 people.  Having said that, since almost 1 out of 5 of us feels like we’re stalled spiritually, we need to give some serious attention to this.
  • Of the 11 different statements of “needs” from PBC, one of the top two desires is for the church to “challenge me to grow and take next steps.”  81% want to be challenged to take the next step spiritually.  And that’s exactly what we want to accomplish during this series.
spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic

I want to propose that spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic.

Have you ever looked at a mature believer and wished you could be like him or her?  Wouldn’t it be great to know the Bible and know how to pray and be able to lead people to Christ and exhibit joy and peace and goodness and knowledge and self-control and perseverance and godliness and kindness and love?  Most of us want instant growth, forgetting that what is behind a godly life is a person who has gone through struggles and trials.  Spiritual development only comes through practicing spiritual disciplines like time in the Word, prayer, fellowship, fasting, giving, witnessing and serving.

There are two truths to balance as we begin.

  • God is committed to our growth.  1 Corinthians 3:6-7: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”  God is committed to our growth because He’s the one who planted us.  Isaiah 60:21: “They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.” When we grow we show His splendor.
  • We must take responsibility for our growth.  Check out 2 Peter 3:18: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…”  Our text next week is 1 Peter 2:2: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”  Paul reminded his readers in 2 Corinthians 10:15 that when they grow, the scope of the gospel grows as well: “Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand.”  And Paul applauded the Thessalonians for not being stalled spiritually in 2 Thessalonians 1:3: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.”

It’s not all up to God and it’s not all up to us.  God has designed it so that we work in partnership with Him.  Philippians 2:12-13 captures our part and God’s part very clearly: “…Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling [that’s our part] for it is God who works in you [that’s God’s part] to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Our church is not accustomed to quoting creeds but I’m greatly moved by the answer to the first question in the Heidelberg Catechism.

Q: What is your only comfort in life and death?

A: “That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation.  Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.”  Did you catch that last part?  God makes us “heartily willing and ready” to live for Him.

Second Peter for Second Generation People

Please turn to the Book of 2 Peter.  This is Peter’s second letter, and he’s concerned that Christians have become complacent and spiritually stalled.  False teachers have been spreading dangerous doctrine and persecution has become prevalent.  On top of all this, a second generation of believers has lost their spiritual passion.  Peter’s purpose is to remind these Christ-followers that the gospel transforms lives, that discipleship involves discipline and that spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic. 

With all this as background, please turn in your Bible to 2 Peter 1:1-2: “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”  Did you know that it’s possible to grow in grace and peace?  The King James uses the word “multiplied” in reference to grace and peace.

I see three truths in verses 3-9 that will help us abundantly grow in grace and Christian character development.

1. We have all that we need. 

If you’re a born again believer, you already have everything you need to grow.  Check out verses 3-4: “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.”

  • Unleash God’s power.  Friend, do you know that you don’t need another book or blessing or seminar or experience if you know Jesus?  Notice the past tense: “has given us everything…” You have all that you need right now to be all that God wants you to be – the word “everything” means everything!  
  • Utilize God’s promises.  God’s promises are great and they are precious.  The word “great” is the superlative root word “megas,” which means exceedingly outstanding.  The word “precious” means prized or valuable.  Putting these together we could say that God’s promises are mega magnificent!  John Bunyan, who spent much of his life in prison for his faith, wrote these words: “The pathway of life is strewn so thickly with the promises of God that it is impossible to take one step without treading upon one of them.”  

Aren’t you glad that God keeps all His promises?  Psalm 145:13: “The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.”  In the margin of many pages of D.L. Moody’s Bible, he wrote the letters “T” and “P,” meaning “Tried and Proved.”  The sad thing is that many of God’s promises go unfulfilled in our lives because we either don’t know about them, or we know about them but don’t apply them to our lives.  

2. We must use all that we have. 

Dallas Willard talks about the process involved with cultivating the inner life.  He uses the letters VIM.  

  • Vision – We must first think about where we want to be.  
  • Intention – Then we must make a decision that we want to get there.
  • Method – Finally we must develop some practices that will get us there.

As you know, I like to use outlines that all begin with the same letter so here’s how I would say it.

  • Dream – Where do you want to be?
  • Decision – Will you make a decision to get there?
  • Disciplines – Will you do what you need to do to get there?

It’s easy to dream because it doesn’t demand anything.  The problem isn’t so much with our desire to grow spiritually because almost everyone wants to grow.  Our problem is, like the disciples, our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak (see Matthew 26:41).  We all could dream about going to the Olympics but it’s only those who decide to do so and then live by some strict disciplines that actually end up on the team.

It’s not enough to just have what we need; we must also use what we’ve been given.  Look with me at these qualities in verses 5-7: “For this very reason, 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.”  

The phrase “make every effort” is quite strong.  It refers to eagerness, earnestness and zeal and has the idea of moving quickly and trying as hard as possible.  Exodus 12:11 provides a word picture from the Passover that helps us capture the meaning: “Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste.”  Here’s the best way I can explain it.  It’s an attitude of expectancy that leads to immediate action.  It’s the opposite of being a lazy believer or a spiritual slacker.  

Let’s remember this: Spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic.   J. Vernon McGee in his unique style writes: “The Christian life is a very serious business.  However, we have made it sort of an extra-curricular activity.”

The word “add” is beautiful as well.  It originally referred to a wealthy patron who would lavishly pay the wages for singers in his chorus.  He would cover the expenses for everything, from their salary to all the technical elements.  These people would go over the top, supplying everything in abundance.  It was also used of keeping the choir in tune.  Likewise, we’re to “add” these next seven elements in order to create a harmony of holy living, not grudgingly but generously.  Before we look at each one, let me make some observations:

  • These qualities are character traits of God.
  • They increase as a result of hard work – “make every effort”.
  • We can’t take a pass on the ones we don’t like.
  • The qualities build on one another.  One commentator likens it to making a cake.  You need all the ingredients and they need to be added in the correct order.  We add and God does the multiplying.
  • These are inward qualities, not outward performance-based activities. 

Let’s take a look at these seven ingredients that we must mix together.  This parade of virtues should be evident in each of our lives, for they have already been given to us.  It’s our responsibility to make sure they are increasing daily.  As we go through each one I want you to give yourself a “thumbs-up” or a “thumbs-down” for each quality.  Simply put your hand on your lap and point your thumb up or down accordingly.

  • Goodness.  This can be translated as moral excellence and the courage to do what is right.  Someone put it this way: Your ideal is what you wish you were.  Your reputation is what people say you are.  Your character is what you really are.”  Your character is who you are when no one is looking.  How are you doing in growing toward goodness?
  • Knowledge.  Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”  I love what J.I. Packer says: “What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God.  What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God.”  It’s important to know God if you want to grow in God.  Check out what John Stott says: Knowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service.  If we do not use the mind that God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God’s grace…Knowledge is given us to be used, to lead us to higher worship, greater faith, deeper holiness, better service.  Are you increasing in knowledge of God?
  • Self-control.  This literally means, “To hold one’s self in.”  It’s the opposite of self-indulgence.  Thumbs-up or thumbs-down on controlling yourself?
  • Perseverance.  This means to bear up under trials.  We must work at endurance and remain constant over time so that we persist in the pursuit of godly character.  If self control has to do with physical pleasures, perseverance has to do with pain.  This is a challenge because our natural tendency is to pursue pleasure and flee from problems.  Are you hanging in there or have you bailed?
  • Godliness.  This refers to practical religion or as one commentator puts it, “practiced religion.”  It can literally be translated as “well-worship.” I’ve heard it said that godliness is a love for God, a love for the things of God and an attitude and action consistent with that love.  To be godly is to have a spirit of reverence and respect for God in all matters.  The Latin phrase is to practice Coram Deo, which means to live before the face of God always.  Thumbs-up or thumbs down?
  • Brotherly kindness.  It’s important to make sure we have nothing but love for fellow lovers of God.  It’s been said: “To dwell above with saints we love, that will be our glory.  To dwell below with saints we know, well that’s another story!”  Is there anyone you’re struggling to love right now?  1 Peter 1:22 says, “Love one another deeply, from the heart.”  Are you growing in this or headed south?
  • Love.  While we’re to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re also to love everyone.  Agape love may involve emotion, but it must always involve action.  Love doesn’t say, “I’ll love you if…” or “I’ll love you when…”  Michael Green has a great definition of this: “Love is a deliberate desire for the highest good of the one loved, which shows itself in sacrificial action for that person’s good.”  We don’t wait to “feel” love before loving; we’re to love no matter how we feel.  How about it?  Thumbs-up or thumbs-down?

Here’s the question.  Will you decide to go after these things?  And here’s the harder question.  Will you discipline yourself to do so?  Let me give you a personal example.  Two years ago on April 1st, I decided to stop eating desserts.  I’ve always had a desire to do this but it wasn’t until I said, “This is the day I’m going to start” that it actually happened.  And then came the hard part.  The first month was a killer because I had to constantly work at disciplining myself to say no to desserts.  After awhile it became easier to not eat sweets (although I made up for it by eating more nachos).  

I was able to avoid desserts for about a year and a half.  And then I fell off the dessert wagon and starting eating them with reckless abandon.  After several months of no self-control, I made a decision to be disciplined again and since this past Tuesday, which was April 1st, I have not had dessert.  I’ll let you know if this was just an April Fool’s joke.  So far so good but we are having a lunch today for those going to Mexico so I’m about to be tempted again.

Some of you have done more than just fallen off the dessert wagon.  Perhaps there’s an area of your life in which you have no self-control.  Are you going to keep going down this road or are you ready to make a decision and will you be disciplined enough to keep it up?  Take the first step.  If you’re serious about growing, you must be intentional because it won’t happen automatically.

Let me just say that you’re going to need help.  You may need an accountability partner.  I meet with someone every couple weeks.  You may need some coaching or some mentoring. 

You can’t get to where you want to be unless you do what you need to do

I often ask people who want to make some changes this question: “How bad do you want to get better?”  And so I ask each of you, “How badly do you want to grow in grace?  What are you going to stop doing and what are you going to start doing?”  If not now, when?  You can’t get to where you want to be unless you do what you need to do.  Let me say that again.  You can’t get to where you want to be unless you do what you need to do.

I’m trying to digest a few pages of “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis every day.  Here’s something I read this week:  “A religious person that liveth not according to discipline, lies open to great mischief to the ruin of his soul.  He that seeketh liberty and ease, shall ever live in distress, for one thing or another will displease him.” (Page 99) 

Spiritual growth is neither automatic nor inevitable—we must dream and then decide and finally be disciplined and devoted.  Here’s some good news.  You can grow because you’ve been given all that you need.  Now it’s a matter of using all that you have.  Be diligent and be disciplined and you will grow by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

How are you doing in this regard?  Are you reading Scripture every day?  Praying?  Are you in fellowship with other believers?  Plugged into serving?  Giving generously?  Going global in our view of God’s work? 

3. When we grow it will show. 

When we’re serious about growing we will be effective and productive.  This is what Peter says in verse 8-9: “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.  But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.”  These seven supplements must be increasing in our lives; which means that everyone in this room has room for improvement.  He then gives us two reasons why it’s worth living lives of worship.

  • Our lives will not be wasted.  No believer should be barren.  We don’t have to grow colder as we grow older.  
  • We will appreciate what we possess when we make progress in our faith.  When these qualities increase, we will be able to see our salvation more clearly.

Next Steps 

Friend, it’s not too late to be what you might have been!   I’m not quite sure who wrote this amazing declaration called “The Fellowship of the Unashamed” but I want to close with it because it’s so powerful.  It shows what happens when we move from just dreaming about being a devoted disciple to the disciplined determination to actually become one.

“I’m a part of the fellowship of the unashamed.  The die has been cast.  I have stepped over the line.  The decision has been made.  I’m a disciple of His and I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.  My past is redeemed.  My present makes sense.  My future is secure.  I’m done and finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.  I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. 

I don’t have to be right, or first, or tops, or recognized, or praised, or rewarded.  I live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit power.

My face is set.  My gait is fast.  My goal is heaven.  My road may be narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable and my mission is clear.  I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed.  I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of the adversary.  I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.  I am a disciple of Jesus.  I must give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes.  And when He does come for His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me.  My colors will be clear!”

Friend, no matter where you are right now, it’s time to take the next step.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve struck out.  Take the next step.  It doesn’t matter if you’re going to fall again.  Take the next step.  We can take steps because Jesus stepped toward us and gave us salvation.  And we can do it because He’s given us everything we need for life and godliness. 

Spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic.  We have all we need and when we use all that we have we will grow…and it will show.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?