Growing in Grace

“I pray that my children may grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).

What is grace? This important concept that is at the heart of Christianity is difficult to pin down. We are saved by grace through faith. This radical truth that was there in the Bible all the time started the Reformation and changed church forever. Using probably the most common definition, grace is the “unmerited favor of God.” The free gift of salvation is the grace offered by God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Well, that seems simple enough. But, can we feel (as emotion) or experience grace, or is it a theological construct that exists apart from our awareness? I can know that “standing on the promises” of being “saved by grace” is true whether I feel like it or not (That reminds me of the line in a praise song: “There’s only two times to praise the Lord, when you feel like it and when you don’t.” Similarly, there’s only two times to know we are saved by grace, when we feel like it and when we don’t). Regardless of how I feel I can be sure of my salvation, because I’m saved by grace (I keep repeating myself). Doesn’t that mean, then, that I don’t really feel grace in an experiential sense? That may not be the case in II Cor. 14:13 as Paul closes with, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” We can experience, or feel, the love of God; we can experience, or feel, the presence of the Holy Spirit; and since the grace of the Lord is to be with us also, do we then experience it, or feel it, too? To be consistent, however, all three (love, Spirit, grace) can be realities in the Christian’s life whether aware of them or not. So, it seems, we can feel or experience the love of God, or not; we can feel, or experience the Holy Spirit, or not; and we can feel, or experience grace, or not (That sure clears it up, huh)?

In II Peter 3:18, in order not to be carried away by error, we are instructed to “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” This seems to suggest that as knowledge can be quantitative, so too can grace. But if we can grow in grace, which seems to include more of it, does that mean we can “be saved by a little or a lot of grace?” Surely being saved by grace is not quantitative. We can’t be saved more or less! Obviously every born again Christian is provided with enough grace for salvation which seems to make it, in that instance, non-quantitative.

Grace has been taken up by culture in the sense of having “social graces”, or being “graceful” or “gracious.” And with social interaction there certainly are people who have an abundance of “graciousness” whether or not they are Christians. I can think of some Christians whom I wish I were more like. They have a kindness and “graciousness” about them that is unlike most other Christians. Do these people possess more grace than I, or others? If so, how did they get it?

There does seem to be a proportional dispensing of grace as it relates to spiritual gifts. In Eph.4:7, Paul states, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” He goes on to connect grace to gifts given to men. I Pet.4:10 is the most convincing passage to make a quantitative connection between grace and spiritual gifts as Peter states that “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” Though it may seem at first that different spiritual gifts would require differences in grace, it is more likely that we dispense God’s grace through our spiritual gifts rather than the spiritual gifts being initiated by grace.

In reviewing the “grace” passages in the New Testament, it is amazing to learn that “grace” permeates almost every book. Grace is connected to just about every idea and work, either as a primary motivator, initiator, divine presence, or somehow containing the essence of God. It is found in openings and closings of letters, and after a while it’s constant use seems to have a corollary in today’s common saying “have a nice day.”

However, there is one passage that to me sums up much of the emphasis and purpose of grace, apart from being saved by grace. That is in Titus 2:11-14: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

This powerful passage, I believe, addresses the ongoing struggle between grace and law. It has always seemed too easy to be saved by grace and not have to do penance. Even though we understand that it is impossible to earn heaven, that free gift goes against everything we experience in life (There’s no such thing as a free lunch). As Paul has written, there is no sin so big that grace is not bigger! So how do we grow in grace so that our lives will be so in tune with God that our every move is “graceful” and bears no resemblance to legalism.

There is a very close relationship between the most legalistic (ungrace) denominations and those who are living a life of Godly grace. They both look similar in their behavior which denies the worlds’ influence, are self-controlled, upright, and eager to do good (Titus 2:11-14). However one operates out of the law, or legalism, while the other operates from God’s grace that produces in the heart the love of pleasing God. Those Christians who follow worldly fads and influences may think they have found a loop-hole in grace covering bigger sins, while those whose heart is after God are “growing in grace” as it teaches their hearts to say “No to ungodliness and worldly passions.” This is not out of the guilt of legalism, but out of the compulsion and teaching of the Holy Spirit. There seems to be a direct correlation between “growing in grace” and being set apart and not allowing the world to “squeeze us into its mold.”

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