I asked myself this question a few mornings ago, after re-reading chap. 1 of the Apostle Peter’s Second Letter to the scattered communities of Asia Minor – see 2 Pet. 1:1-11.
It happened like this. I’d had a disagreement with a fellow-believer who had publicly taken me to task for something I’d written with factual back-up and good motives. What should my response be? The answer was right there in 1:7, I was to react with ‘brotherly and Christlike love,’ keeping my mouth shut and attitude sweet (with great positive results all round, btw). I jotted down some thoughts and decided to revisit the text later…
Where is Peter coming from in his Second Letter? An older, wiser man, he writes to unnamed recipients (Nero’s persecution of Christians was increasing), warning them of Gnostic ‘Christians’ infiltrating the young churches with their anything-goes libertinism. The purpose of the Letter is three-fold: (1) to stimulate spiritual growth (v. 2, 8, 2:18); (2) combat divisive teaching; (3) focus on Christ’s majestic return. [Peter had already caught a glimpse of his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (1:16ff)]
What exactly is Peter saying in 1:1-11?
- He begins with a reminder of God’s grace in Christ and the ‘given-ness’ of faith: v. 1b/NLT, ‘I am writing to you who share the same precious faith we have. This faith was given to you (cf. Eph. 2:8, etc) because of the justice and fairness of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour.’ Believers have obtained faith by loving decree – hence all personal merit is excluded.
- Next Peter encourages his readers to ‘grow’ in their ‘given’ faith: v. 2, ‘May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.’ ‘Knowledge’ here is personal, relational, down-to-earth and imparted: not the prideful human ‘knowledge’ of the Corinthian Christians, nor that of the ‘super-spiritual’ and immoral Gnostics.
- The apostle reminds his readers of ‘God’s precious promises:’ v. 3-4, ‘By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life… And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.‘ Wow!
- However, Peter reminds the churches that they couldn’t just sit back with folded arms. God’s grace both enabled them and demanded effort on their part: v. 5-8, ‘make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone’ [Peter doesn’t clarify the difference between ‘brotherly affection’ (philadelphia) and ‘love’ (agape): the former probably has more of the emotional about it, the latter ‘sacrificial love.’] ‘The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…’ (v. 8). On the matter of ‘godliness,’ I well recall the ‘Keswick Conventions’  of yesteryear across the world. Yes, there were some followers flirting with asceticism and legalism (e.g. dress codes), but more often than not the movement produced men and woman of exceptional character and spiritual stature. I recall as a young Assistant Pastor at a local city church having to introduce the saintly Dr. J. Sidlow Baxter at one of our services – as I recall a tall, striking man who carried in his very demeanour the fragrance of Jesus Christ! I remember that brief encounter to this day. As an inexperienced apprentice pastor, he made me feel like a prince! It’s a great sadness to me that we’ve so denigrated ‘holiness’ of life today to something stiff and starchy, unattractive and undesirable. The Bible urges all of us to zealously pursue it: see 1 Cor.13, Heb. 12:14ff (I’ve often failed here). ‘Holiness’ is essentially ‘Christ-likeness:’ humbly and ‘humanly’ displayed (Jesus was the man par excellence, the proper man). Such holiness we are summoned to pursue individually and corporately. ‘A holy church is an awful weapon in the hand of God,’ said C.H. Spurgeon. Such holiness is also graciously rewarded: God promises us ‘a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!’ (v. 10-11).
We return to our original question, ‘So When Will We All Grow Up?’ The child that stops growing becomes a challenge to himself/herself and those caring for him/her. When a man/woman stops developing mentally he/she has taken the first step to senility (H.L. Ellison). So what does our current character and behaviour say about our growth in Christ?
Here are just two things that will, under God, accelerate our growth:
- Simple obedience. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (martyred by the Nazi’s in 1945) declared that ‘while mankind goes after success, God goes after obedience.’ In our Western ‘churches’ we are (more often than not) just plainly disobedient to the revealed will of God: ‘It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe, in Him, if you do not do anything He tells you’ (George McDonald). In our ego-centricity, we treat God as a kind of ‘spare-wheel’ for emergency use, and when things don’t go our way we rail and sulk like children who can’t get their way.
- Spiritual sight. Peter says those claiming to know God but exhibiting zip spiritual growth, are ‘blind.’ V. 9, ‘But those who fail to develop in this way are short-sighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.’ Jesus called out the blindness of the legalists of his day (Jn. 9:39-41), Peter calls out that of the libertines of his time! The anomaly of ‘blind believers!’ Sadly they fill our pews and pulpits every Sunday. ‘Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus…’
A final question, how do we pursue spiritual growth?
- The worst thing we could do is to just wind ourselves up once more and ‘try harder’ (the common pulpit-recipe) – the best thing would be to take a fresh look at JESUS and what/who we are ‘in him:’ 1 Pet. 1:3-10; Eph. 1-3. How about restfully re-reading these key passages, maybe from a good paraphrase, and rejoicing in them anew? [on this, try and get hold of Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life with its excellent teaching headed ‘Sit, Walk, Stand’ – we took several weeks over this in our house church with great benefit]. Note how, in Eph. 1:15-23, Paul prays for the half-seeing believers to have a ‘revelation’ of Christ’s person, and who/what they are ‘in Christ,’ so they may triumph over principalities and powers sent from the very headquarters of evil (Eph. 6:10-20). What held true for the Ephesians then holds true for us today.
- Let’s astutely understand our times. We live in a post-modern/post-Christian era, characterized by subjectivism, humanitarianism and libertinism. I watched with fascination an interview with Christian sociologist Tony Campolo and his humanist son, Bart. Bart has rejected his father’s faith, yet sees the need for a kind of ‘humanitarian community.’ Tony can’t ignore the divine dimension. He relates the example of famed French mathematician and inventor, Blaise Pascal, who had experienced a kind of mental conversion to Christ, but then lost his way for a season. He determined to find his way back to God. One day, on the 23rd November 1654, at 7 am, Pascal decided to shut himself in his room all day that he may find some answers. Throughout the day nothing happened, but around 10:30 pm that night God totally overwhelmed him over a period of two hours, leaving him changed for ever. He scribbled some notes: ‘GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. GOD of Jesus Christ, my God and your God… Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD! He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel…. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy! … This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one that you sent, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ! I left him; I fled him, renounced, crucified. Let me never be separated from him… Renunciation, total and sweet. Complete submission to Jesus Christ…’ Pascal sewed these notes into his coat seam, where they were discovered after his death. Remember how the fear of a single woman caused Peter to deny his Lord, and how post-Pentecost Peter preached fearlessly to thousands of hostile Jews to the extent that three thousand were added to the Church in a single day! The answer to our powerlessness lies in the Spirit-realm! We have a colossal task on our hands as Church in the 21st century: may God’s Ruach sovereignly encounter us all, so that this broken world may yet be restored through the reconciling love of Jesus Christ. 
 These conventions were named after Keswick, a lovely country village in the beautiful English ‘Lake District,’ which Melanie and I were privileged to explore during a two-month honeymoon back-pack around the UK many ‘moons’ ago (forgive the pun).
 Via my blog inquiries, I’ve noticed a new interest, from all over the world, in the matter of ‘revival.’ In this regard I would recommend my twin-blog, ‘REVIVAL – SOME QUESTIONS AND SUBMISSIONS,’ posted 16th November 2018. I’m utterly convinced that God’s present ‘move’ is increasingly via grassroots, ‘simple churches’ as exemplified in the Early Church. Witness the underground Church in China, North India, and even Iran. PS, I heartily recommend two treasured books on my shelf: Dr. Andrew Murray’s ‘The Believer’s Full Blessing of Pentecost’ and Dr. Graham Scroggie’s ‘The Fulness of the Holy Spirit.’ Scroggie wrote, ‘It came to me twenty-four years ago. Though I look back with deepest regret over much failure during these years, yet I know that, in a little room in our home, standing on the edge of Epping Forest, East London, God filled me with His Holy Spirit, and made Christ Master for the first time in my life. Life has never been the same since…’ He adds, ‘You know that God is willing, but, are you?’