Growing in Grace
The disciple Peter has a spotty leadership record. He was rebuked by Jesus as Satan; tried to kill a guy (no one aims for the ear); denied that he knew Jesus when it mattered most; and even after receiving the Holy Spirit and participating in launching the Church, he still struggled with racial prejudice.1 His story and track record would seem to be a wound in the Body of Christ, as the life and ministry of Peter is one that is often marked by its faults and embarrassments. Certainly, we should not dismiss the transformation of Peter, but like you and me…it was definitely progressive and on going, such is the process of sanctification.
That fact that Peter was okay with his story being documented and circulated in the early church might actually reveal something about Peter: he knew, recognized, and celebrated that he was not the hero. This might seem to be counter-productive to many who are skeptical of Christianity. After all, if you were trying to show the power of God and the perfection of Jesus, why would you display the failures of his followers? In my opinion, precisely because Peter wants us to see, know, and grow in the knowledge of the grace that he received from Jesus and other believers. He wants us to know the truth about grace and the grace found in the truth of the person and work of Christ. Our faults point to our need for faith in Christ. Textual critics and Bible scholars agree that Peter’s inclusion of his failures points all the more to the truth of Scripture and its redemptive message of grace through faith in Christ.2
Peter experienced the freedom of grace after feeling the weight of guilt. This is offered to all who place their faith in Jesus. Let’s look at the biblical vision of grace and truth for a moment.
The New Testament alone makes over 150 references to grace and usually in the context of God’s work and action in and among his people. The word grace simply means unmerited, undeserved, and unearned gift or favor. The “un” should be clear enough for us to understand that there is nothing that we can do to earn or gain God’s grace; it is freely given and freely received. Paul states that anything contra to this message is false, empties the cross of its power, and places the emphasis on man’s achievements rather than on God’s goodness.3
The word truth in Scripture intrinsically is tied to God and is often used in contrast of falsehood. Falsehood is the way of the flesh while truth is reflective of God, who is the standard of truth. Christians are to be people of truth. Our culture today believes truth is subjective and relative, but there is no escaping the fact that in relationships we crave honesty and if the truth is not told or expressed the relationship is doomed. Why is that? Well, because truth exists and finds its foundation in God, who is revealed in Jesus, who came in “grace and truth” and leads us to worship in “spirit and truth.” Truth being subjective sounds nice until you are lied to and then hurt. If truth does not exist, we have no justification for feeling hurt when betrayed. We only know a lie because we have a sense of truth, even if it is a fallen sense of truth. Truth can be suppressed, exchanged, and rejected, but will naturally incur the consequences.
In John 1:14-16 we see that the incarnation (God stepping into humanity in and through Jesus) was an act of grace on behalf of man and served to reveal truth to humanity. In Galatians 1, Paul speaks against moralistic legalism by reminding a compromising church that grace is the foundation of faith and life in Christ. In James 4:6, James, the younger brother of Jesus, teaches that God offers grace to the humble of heart, which is only possible by and through the Holy Spirit revealing our prideful inclinations towards self-justification (we desire to sit on the throne of our lives). In 2 Corinthians 12:9-11, Paul reminds a wayward and rather spiritually empty church that the gift of God’s grace is sufficient in their weakness. In Philippians 1:7, we learn that there is something about grace that empowers and enables us by the Holy Spirit to endure persecution. And last, but not least (though he may beg to differ), Peter considers God to be the “God of all grace” in 1 Peter 5:10. These are but a few of verses where we see the vision for grace.
From this, it is clear that grace is redemptive, not isolated or separated from truth, and seems to motivate the heart of the believer in the daily surrender to the Spirit’s leading and filling. How amazing is grace? How sweet is the sound of an undeserved gift that is fueling our daily lives, here and now and for the time to come?
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity…
2 Peter 3:18
In 2 Peter 3:18, Peter concludes his letter by telling his audience to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ…” This should be a daily goal for believers; to ask ourselves question like: “Who can offer grace to today? Who has offended me, and what will take for me to show grace?”
I won’t get into recent events or call out particular people here, but I would challenge you to ask yourself if Christians today are known for being people of grace and truth? From what I have seen, we often tend to fall on one side or the other, grace or truth. This is problematic and removes the power of grace and the conviction of truth. Grace without truth becomes permissive weakness, while truth without grace becomes aggressive arrogance. We have to learn to live in and balance the tension found between speaking truth in “post-truth” culture and being people of grace in a society that is centered on performance of the self. Peter encourages us to grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus. This means forgiving others as we have been forgiven, and remaining informed about the way of Jesus as we walk on our own redemptive journey. Grace doesn’t require us to neglect truth; in fact, grace demands truth and truth demands grace if we are to see true life change in ourselves and others.
In my nearly ten years of doing ministry I have learned (personally and pastorally) that those who are most un-gracious have not really experienced it, therefore cannot offer it. On the other side, those who are most gracious and honest are those who have received grace and honesty from others.
The only way to grow in grace is to find ways to offer it and receive it when it’s offered.