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Growing in the Grace and Knowledge of Jesus Christ

“You already know these things, dear friends. So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Peter‬ ‭3:17-18‬ ‭NLT‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

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If you’ve watched the news on television recently, or read a newspaper or even posts online, the reports have been full of warnings concerning the Corona Virus. It’s wise to be on guard and take seriously what we hear from dependable sources on how we can protect ourselves. But to do that we first have to sift out the lies from the truth.

Today’s Scripture begins with another kind of warning, one that is the theme of the book of 2 Peter. This letter was written just before Nero began his persecution of Christians. ‬‬Peter recognized his time on earth was coming to an end (2 Peter 1: 13-15) – shortly after this, he was martyred for his faith – and this final epistle was written to both warn and comfort the church in a time when their future looked unsettled. It was a time when the church also needed to recognize the lies and stand on the truth.

After encouraging the believers to remember that God’s power had given them everything they needed to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:3), even in the midst of the problems they were facing, the beloved apostle closed the book with the above two verses. To these who had been entrusted to his care, Peter was saying it’s time to be on guard, to both the dangers from without and complacency and heresy from within.

After warning the believers to maintain their secure footing in the midst of the false teaching that had infiltrated the church, he says the words that I’m focusing on today. “Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” In essence, he was reminding them to become aware that the main business they were there for was growing in God’s grace and in their knowledge of Jesus.

GROWING IN GRACE

Dwight L. Moody said concerning grace, “Grace isn’t a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal…Grace means undeserved kindness. It is the gift of God to man the moment he sees he is unworthy of God’s favor. It’s a way to live. The law tells me how crooked I am. Grace comes along and straightens me out.”

One definition I’ve read is that grace is the power of God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. By grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross we are saved. Saving grace is explained in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
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But grace isn’t only for salvation. We need God’s grace every day we live on this earth. God gives not only saving grace but also sustaining grace, the type of grace seen in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
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Max Lucado said concerning sustaining grace, “Sustaining grace meets us at our point of need and equips us with courage, wisdom, and strength.

David Wilkerson said, “To me, grace is Holy Ghost empowerment to become more like Jesus. Therefore, to grow in grace means to increase in Christ-likeness through the unmerited power of God’s Spirit.

As we grow in grace, we talk and think less about ourselves. We become lower and lower in our own estimation. We also come to a greater understanding of God’s holiness, justice, and sovereignty, which in turn allows us to more clearly see our rebellion, selfishness and pride. We recognize our unworthiness and see the greatness of His undeserved favor and love that drew us to Himself. And as David Wilkerson said, we become more like Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit that indwells our spirit.

GROWING IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST

Knowing Christ is of incomparable worth–of more value than anything! The apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Philippian church.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭3:7-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Sometimes it takes a dramatic turn of events to alter our perspective. For me, that started with an accident that took the life of our firstborn daughter, Teresa, and left me crippled so badly my doctors did not expect me ever to be able to walk. Because of God’s grace, they were wrong. At the time, I was already a Christian who loved the Lord and wanted to please Him. My husband and I had met each other while attending Bible College, and we were now working with a ministry group in a small town in west Texas. Everything looked promising for the future.

What had I counted as gain? My health for one thing, my ability to walk whenever I wanted to, to get in the car and drive wherever I wanted to go, a relatively pain-free life, the desire to one day return to teaching kindergarten when our daughter was a little older. In one dramatic turn of events, all of those were lost.

How could I count these good desires as rubbish? How was all of this “for the sake of Christ.” Honestly, it took me a long time to come to the point where I could look at the losses and see any gain from them.

In his book The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence wrote,

“The difficulties of life do not have to be unbearable. It is the way we look at them – through faith or unbelief – that makes them seem so. We must be convinced that our Father is full of love for us and that He only permits trials to come our way for our own good.

“Let us occupy ourselves entirely in knowing God. The more we know Him, the more we will desire to know Him. As love increases with knowledge, the more we know God, the more we will truly love Him. We will learn to love Him equally in times of distress or in times of great joy.”

It took many years before I could look at these difficulties and others that came years later and see them through the lens of faith. I still don’t know why God allowed the accident that took the life of our firstborn. I still don’t understand God’s purposes in making my husband and I parents of a little boy who lived with profound mental retardation and was completely dependent upon others to meet all of his needs for all 34 years of his life. I don’t know why in the midst of this, we also became the caregivers of my dear mother-in-law who had Alzheimer’s. In fact, I stopped asking “why?” many years ago.

But there are some things I do know. I know God is good. I know He is faithful. I know from experience that His grace is sufficient, even in my weakness. And above all, I know that the circumstances I’ve lived through have changed me into a different person than I was when all of this began in December 1975. My love for God is deeper, and my peace surpasses my understanding. And finally, I know a time is coming when the Lord will wipe away every tear from my eyes, when death and mourning and pain will be no more, when God will make all things new (Revelation 21:4-5).

Until then, my desire is to continue growing in the grace and knowledge of my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. And to continue trusting my unknown future to a God I’ve come to know.

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Are You a “God-fearer” or a Born Again Christian?

I’ve been doing an in-depth study of the book of Acts, and today’s lesson was on the beginning verses of Acts 10, which focus on Cornelius. Luke, the author of Acts, describes Cornelius as “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2), yet as the chapter continues we learn he was still a man who needed to hear and receive the good news of salvation by grace.

My Christian life began in a series of Methodist churches, so when I read the following quote by Warren Wiersbe comparing Cornelius to John Wesley it stood out to me.

“In many respects, John Wesley was like Cornelius. He was a religious man, a church member, a minister, and the son of a minister. He belonged to a ‘religious club’ at Oxford, the purpose of which was the perfecting of the Christian life. Wesley served as a foreign missionary, but even as he preached to others, he had no assurance of his own personal salvation.

“On May 24, 1738, Wesley reluctantly attended a small meeting in London where someone was reading aloud from Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. ‘About a quarter before nine,’ Wesley wrote in his journal, ‘while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ The result was the great Wesleyan revival that not only swept many into the kingdom, but also helped transform British society through Christian social action.”

This is also a good description of my life. From the time I was a small child, I was in church most Sundays. But like John Wesley and Cornelius, while I believed in Jesus Christ, I did not trust in Him alone for salvation. My trust was in my good works. That changed when I was in my first year of teaching kindergarten, when my eyes were opened to the need to trust in the finished work of Jesus on the Cross alone for salvation.

What about you? Are you like Cornelius at the beginning of this chapter, “a devout man (or woman) who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” (Acts‬ ‭10:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬) Are you a seeker or a true believer in Christ?

Salvation is by placing our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. It is a gift of grace, based on what Jesus has already done.

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans‬ ‭10:9-10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Religious Lifestyle or Living Relationship?

1 Peter 3:15 instructs us as Christians to always be prepared to share the reason for the hope we have in Jesus Christ – in other words, to be ready whenever the opportunity arises to share our personal testimony of how we came to know Christ. I especially like the New Living Translation wording of this verse.

“… you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.”

During recent weeks, our iConnect Bible study class members have been taking turns sharing our personal testimonies of how we came to know Christ. The goal has been for each of us to prepare and share a brief, two to three minute testimony of our life before knowing Christ, how we came to know Him, and how receiving Christ as our Savior and Lord has changed how we live. Then, when God opens the door to  share this with someone who does not know Christ as their personal Savior we’ll be prepared to explain what God has done in our lives and what He is able and willing to do in their life.

This is my personal testimony.

I was born into a Christian family. My father and my mother had both accepted the Lord as their personal Savior at an old fashioned camp meeting revival before they were married, and by the time I came along over 20 years later, our family lived a Christian lifestyle.

Two of my earliest childhood memories are of my father sitting in his red leather rocker every morning before leaving for work reading his Bible, and of my mother kneeling beside her bed each night praying. And going to church was simply what we did – every time the doors were open. It was as much a part of my lifestyle as a child and teenager as going to school.

We attended a Methodist church that was at the end of the block where we lived, and I remember walking to the church early every Sunday morning. During the week, I also spent lots of time at the parsonage which was next door to the church, visiting with some of my best friends, our pastor’s daughter and another friend who lived next door.

My father was a deacon in our church, my older sister who still lived at home a children’s Sunday School teacher and choir member. And by the time I was in high school I was either working in the nursery or teaching the youngest class of children most Sundays.

When I went away to college in 1966, I continued to attend church. A large local Methodist church sent a bus to the campus to pick up students, and I seldom missed a Sunday.

When I graduated from college in 1970 and moved to the town north of Baltimore where I had a job teaching kindergarten, one of the first things I did after my roommate and I got unpacked and settled in an apartment was to start looking for a church. I found a nearby Methodist church and started attending. And this church is where my life changed.

At this church, my life changed when Christianity became more than a religious lifestyle. It became a relationship, a personal walk with Jesus Christ. It was in this church that I first understood that the only way to be a real part of God’s kingdom is by being born again. For the first time, I understood that my religious lifestyle wasn’t enough. I understood that my sin separates me from God, but that God had provided a way to bridge that gap.

Even though I had attended church all my life, even though I considered myself a Christian, for the first time in my life I recognized this wasn’t enough.

For the first time, I understood why Jesus had to die on the cross, and the steps I needed to take to benefit from His sacrifice.

  1. I now saw myself as a sinner who needed salvation.
  2. I understood that the just penalty for sin is death.
  3. I acknowledged that Jesus paid that penalty for me when He died on the cross.
  4. I recognized that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, one we accept by faith.
  5. I received that gift by faith, as I accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord. And I was born again – and since that day my life has never been the same.

My life as a new Christian began me down a new road, one that definitely hasn’t always been easy. But I’ve never regretted the decision I made so many years ago. Jesus has been with me, walking at my side, through every trial I’ve faced, and my relationship with Him has been my source of strength.

Do you have a similar story you can tell? If not, now is the time to take these same steps I took. Moving from religion to relationship has the power to transform your life.

If you’ve already received this free gift of salvation by faith, are you prepared to share the reason for the hope you have found in Christ Jesus? Have you taken the time to prayerfully prepare a brief testimony of the work of God in your life to bring you to salvation? Acts 1:8 says the Lord has called us to be His witnesses, to our Jerusalem (the city where we live), our Judea and Samaria (the area nearby), and to the ends of the earth. Are you prepared to be His witness whenever He opens the door for you to do so? If not, don’t wait another day to get ready.