Today and next week we are doing a very quick series we like to call Remix. Remix is where we look back at some sermon series we’ve done before and see if there was something we felt like we needed to talk about again, a topic we wanted to cover but didn’t get worked into the schedule, or because we thought the topic was of such importance, we just felt like it was good to bring up as a reminder.
So, today I wanted to go way back to the beginning of 2016, you know, the good old days, when we kicked off the New Year with aseries called “getfit: Being Whole and Holy in the New Year.” Over six weeks, we looked at various areas of life that we thought we could all use some tune ups in from time to time.
We began with the obvious one called Bodyfit. I say obvious not because I am looking at anyone in particular, but because that is where the majority of people begin their resolutions. “I want to lose weight.” But we saw how it isn’t about a number on the scale, but about how we can and should be healthy because God has us here for a purpose and we want to be available for that purpose.
We looked at how to get fit in our relationships and how to get fit emotionally. We tackled the difficult subject of mental health, something that many people and even churches like to sweep under the rug. But we brought it out into the light and talked about how we cannot stigmatize this area of our lives; we must break the cycle of shame and isolation associated with this and we encouraged anyone struggling in this area to no longer live in
shame but to be willing to talk about it and get the necessary help.
We talked about the area of finances and how to get fit with our money. And we wouldn’t be much of a church if we didn’t also include the subject of our spiritual fitness, paying attention to our spiritual lives and how we can grow in our relationship with God.
The Staying Power of Our Resolutions
Unfortunately for many of us, it only takes about two or three weeks before we are tired, the routine we had before creeps back into lives and by February 1st, we have completely forgotten about any effort to change or improve something in ourselves. In fact, statistics show that only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions.
This 8% is why I wanted to revisit this topic today. Not to rehash all six messages again or pour a little guilt on you about your weight or spiritual practices, but to talk about the key to seeing real and genuine growth in our lives in any area, but most importantly, in our spiritual lives.
You see, I believe there are a few times during a year when we do a re-evaluation of life. January 1st is one, and for many families, the beginning of school, or fall is another. Parents with kids, did any of you tell yourselves: “This year, I am going to cut down the hours my kids watch television,” or say, “This is the school year we are going to eat dinner together at the table at least three times a week”?
I know we did some of these at our house. Putting bedtimes back in place, limiting screen time on technology, revising homework rules, making changes in meal times are just a few of the resolutions we might make this time of year. But what chance do these changes have if the ones in January couldn’t survive? What makes the difference for the 8% who can make changes in their lives that actually stick and become part of who they are?
It is one word: Perseverance. Understanding that our growth isn’t dependent on a single moment in time, but on the small steps we make everyday. And even though this message could apply to just about every area of our lives, I want to focus on our spiritual growth. Is growth possible or even necessary? Does God expect us to grow and if so what part do we play? And what does perseverance have to do with it?
New Testament Wisdom
In the New Testament, we find a letter that was written by the Apostle Peter, the guy who had walked with Jesus and was in his inner circle, and towards the end of his life, before he was martyred, he wrote a letter to Gentile Christians most likely in the area around Asia Minor and Greece.
We need to remember that the churches were all new. The teachings of Jesus were still being spread and everything was very fresh. It was common for false teachers to rise up and begin to distort what the apostles had been teaching.
And it was just such a reason that Peter wrote this letter—to respond to the false teaching that was going on. But interestingly, what Peter focused on in his letter was not what was being taught, but how the people were living.
2 Peter 1:3-11.
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.
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. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective an 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.
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive an rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There are a few important points I think we need to understand when it comes to spiritual growth and perseverance.
Growth is Possible
The first is this: growth is possible. But we’ve all been there: life gets hard, difficulty comes our way, things
aren’t turning out the way we had hoped. Or we’ve been down this path before, we’ve tried to make changes, we want to grow spiritually or we want change in some area, but we find ourselves failing again and again, and all we really want to do at this point is just give up. So we stop trying. We wonder if it is even possible to grow, spiritually or in any other way?
Peter says yes it is. We aren’t destined to a moment in time where we prayed a prayer and we came to know Jesus and that is all that we can expect from this life. Not at all. Peter says we can grow. We can change. We can live a godly life. We aren’t destined for failure. We aren’t a lost cause. We can become more like Jesus. These qualities he lists: goodness, self-control, love, can be a part of who we are. And not only can they be, but they should be.
Growth is Expected
Growth isn’t just possible, it is expected. Our knowledge of God should change who we are. When we know God, and not just mental assent to the reality of a God somewhere out there, but know God and know Jesus Christ through experience, that true knowledge will bring about grace, and peace, and holiness, and love in our lives.
Most of the time when we see the word “know” in the Bible it means more than understanding facts about them. When we read that Adam knew Eve, it didn’t mean he had her phone number or knew her favorite flower. It meant he knew her intimately, as husbands and wives know each other. When we know God, we know him intimately, through experience, by walking with him and allowing him to guide our lives. A deep, life-transforming connection.
And the reason this growth is expected isn’t because God likes to see us jump through hoops or it makes him love us more. It is more for our benefit than his, because over and over in the New Testament, we are challenged to resist a faith that makes no difference in our lives. Love changes you.
Peter here challenges us to make every effort to confirm our calling and election. He wants you to confirm your salvation, your relationship with Christ. How do we do that? See if the faith we profess has made any difference in our lives, because if our faith isn’t strong enough to modify how we live and reorient our priorities, then we need to make sure that it was strong enough to save us to begin with.
As one pastor I read this week put it, there are so many Christians who have been sitting in churches clutching their born-again certificates for a long time, and they haven’t seen much growth, and that’s a problem. You should see things happening in your life. Growth is possible, but it is also expected.
Growth Requires Effort
Growth also requires effort. This topic becomes problematic for some us, because then we start to pull out the lists: Go to church. Check. Give a little money. Check. We think, “I’ve done my duty for the week. Wow. Look at me grow.” And if we want to be super spiritual, we will add to that: Work in the nursery. Check and check. Now I am super spiritual because I know that God would never deny anyone who has worked in the nursery into heaven.
But there is a problem. Somewhere along the way, we equated growth with busyness, thinking “The more I do for God the better Christian I am.” But if the changes we see only effect where we are at 10 AM on a Sunday morning, we have missed it. The growth Peter is encouraging is inward growth that changes the outside. And this type of growth begins with God.
We’ve been given the starter kit. The divine power of Jesus Christ, the same power that raised his lifeless body back from the dead, that same power has given us everything we need for a godly life. It begins with God. But it doesn’t end there.
Because then Peter says we must “make every effort.” And in this short passage he actually says it twice. Verse 5 and 10. Make every effort. We are never told that the key to this Christian life is to pray a magic prayer, and whamo kablamo, we are a Christian and we have nothing else to do until we die. We are involved in this process.
In verse 5 when Peter wrote, “Add to your faith…” the word add drew on a metaphor that his early readers would have been familiar with. In those times it was common for a wealthy individual to partner with poets or the state to put on plays. This was an expensive endeavor, but the cooperation, the working together is what made these plays possible. Peter said “add,” and with that comes the idea of generous and costly cooperation. We work together with God in our sanctification, our growth in grace.
We can’t just be content with simply a “get out of hell free card.” Or what is called “Easy Believism.”
We must find the balance between legalism—working to earn salvation, and easy believism—praying a prayer with no repentance or changed life salvation. Neither of these extremes are correct. Does our devotion grow not from duty but from desire? That is an important difference. Our salvation is not something we can ever earn. But our growth in Christ is something God has given us the tools to accomplish. Will we pick them up and use them?
Growth Produces Results – Christlikeness
The last thing we see from Peter here about our growth is that growth produces results. Peter gives us a list of characteristics that should be a part of healthy Christian growth.This is what growth looks like.
Often when we see a list like this, we assume that these qualities will build the other, so to get to the next one you must have the preceding one. With this particular list, that isn’t the case. There is no real order to it, except for maybe the first one…faith. Faith is the foundation, the starting point of Christian experience.
And notice what Peter says about these qualities. “Add to your…” These are qualities you already possess. They are present to some degree in those who say they know Jesus. The issue isn’t having them or not, but to what degree are you growing in them and living them out.
Goodness — moral excellence
Knowledge — wisdom, knowing God and living in relationship with him, knowing how to make decisions that line up with his desires
Self-control — to not be controlled by your passions
Perseverance — to keep at it even when it gets difficult or you get tired
Godliness — a practical awareness of God in every aspect of life
Mutual Affection — caring for one another
Love — the glue that holds them all together
We must take a long hard and honest look and ask what growth we see in our lives. Because if we see no growth, we need to ask why. A lack of spiritual growth is a sign of spiritual death.
In his book “The Pursuing God,” pastor and author Joshua Butler writes, “If we claim to follow Jesus, but our lives bear no fruit and show no signs of transformation, we should take notice that something’s probably wrong.” If we still live selfish, self-absorbed lives, we must ask whether or not we really believe.
Again, we need to look inward to see that we are
becoming more like Jesus and not just think we are getting there because we are
busier. We don’t want simply action for action sake, but action for loves sake. We should love Jesus,
yes, but one of the best ways we can love Jesus is by living for him.
Now I understand that sometimes it doesn’t feel like we are making any progress. Times are difficult. We experience hardship ourselves or see those we love have to experience difficulty. In the darkness, we question God, our relationship to him. We question everything. In these moments we think we aren’t just not moving forward but it feels like we are moving backwards.
But it is in the pit and in the testing that we experience some of the greatest moments of spiritual growth.
Conclusion – Perseverance is the Key
What we have to understand is that when it comes to growth, there is no magic bullet, no secret that can short circuit the process. Growth takes time. Like a garden, nothing pops up immediately. It has to be watered and fertilized. It doesn’t happen immediately. It is a time consuming process.
In the book of 1 John, we see a description of this growth taking place. In 1 John 2 we see terms used for people at differing stages of growth: children, young men, and fathers.
But we need to grow, we must grow, and we will show signs of growth when we do. And the one factor that I think makes all the difference is perseverance. Will we stick with it? When it gets tough? When we get discouraged? When we don’t see the results we thought we would.
No one gets healthy by sitting on the couch and no one grows spiritually by sitting in a pew. And no one makes progress if we don’t persevere. Jesus doesn’t love us more because we do it, but it does show Jesus how much we love him.
Peter cautions us that if we don’t persevere, we will have lives that are ineffective and unproductive. Fruitless. No one wants to get to the end of their life and realize they lived their entire life for the wrong thing.
What area of your life do you need to see growth in? Peter is talking about spiritual growth first and foremost. Are you growing spiritually? Do you see the characteristics increasing in your life? Godliness? Self-control? Love? Perseverance is the key. What about the other areas of your life: your physical health, or emotional heath? Did you make resolutions earlier this year, resolutions you know you need to keep, but your perseverance ran out months ago?
Then today make it your goal to get back up. Start again. This new school year is a new season, why not make it a new start as well? Jesus has given us everything we need to share in his divine nature and escape the corruption of sin. Will you persevere through the rest of 2016, so that you are effective and productive in the kingdom of God and revealing him for others to see, experience, and know too? Remember, our growth isn’t dependent on a single moment in time, but on the small steps we make everyday.