(For the podcast version of this post, listen here.)
Have you ever heard of the Peter Pan syndrome? In essence, this is someone who simply refuses to grow up. They are generally resistant to all forms of responsibility and commitment; they are often insecure and immature in their emotions and relationships. Understandably, their work history is nonexistent or abysmal. While appearing to have a superior attitude, they have no real goals or plans for the future.
I feel like I have known a few Peter Pans in my time. I even feel like I have resisted the “bonds” of adulthood, myself, at times. I think we all chafe against our responsibilities sometimes. Ahh, to just be a child again, we think. But don’t you also remember being a child and wanting to grow up so badly? Ironic. It seems we are never satisfied with our lot in life.
While it’s easy to see how damaging that a refusal to mature in practical life would be greatly detrimental, why aren’t we able to see the eternal damage done in our spiritual lives when we refuse to “grow up” in our faith? When we receive the precious Holy Spirit, it is the beginning of our lives in God, the seed. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to follow in His steps; we are meant to be ever-growing and deepening our faith. It’s time to grow.
It Starts with Desire
In the book of 2 Peter, chapter 1, the apostle gives an invigorating plan for growth in the life of a child of God. In verse 2, he says:
May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.
Just like a newborn baby in the physical sense, in the spiritual sense, when we are reborn into the family of God, we are alive – praise God – but we know almost nothing at all and we need to be cared for and tended to by others. But, even right from the start, it’s up to us to begin to grow. Peter used the phrase “as you grow,” not “if you grow.” It’s obvious that the plan is for us to be so enamored with our newfound faith and devotion to the Lord that we would desire to mature and come to know Him all the more.
1 Peter 2 tells us that we are to crave and to cry out for pure spiritual milk. That’s quite a word picture! What mother or caregiver doesn’t recall the urgency with which a newborn gives a piercing cry of distress when she is hungry? When was the last time we can honestly say that we cried out to the Lord with such deep need for more of Him? One thing is certain: without a true desire for spiritual growth, we won’t achieve it. In fact, without the pressing urge to go deeper in God, we will noticeably grow colder and weaker. In matters of the spirit, we are either progressing or regressing; there is no neutrality.
We can see, then, that first desiring growth in our spiritual lives in a matter of critical importance. It’s not something that is only for the “super spiritual” among us; any true disciple of Jesus Christ must always be conscious of an ever-growing need for progress in his devotion.
Layers of Growth
In 2 Peter, verses 5-7 are laid out a series of layers whereby to grow in our faith. Faith in Christ is the seed that begins it all. Our faith must take root, and as we diligently tend to it, a fruit-bearing plant will begin to emerge.
Virtue, also translated as moral excellence or goodness, is the first layer of growth we are instructed to add to our faith. Now that we have the Spirit of God, we are enabled and given the power to do what is right. In our lives before God, maybe we didn’t even care to do right or to make moral choices; or perhaps, we did want to, but we were just never able to do it. Once our faith is activated, though, and we are beginning to live our lives according to God’s ways, we are now empowered to make these right choices and to act upon them.
No, it doesn’t mean we will always make the moral choice! We must continually go to God for help with this. However, when we are starting our walk with the Lord, we must quickly begin living a moral, upstanding life so that our faith will grow.
In this present age, according to culture, right and wrong are on a sliding scale: they can move about according to your changing feelings and preferences. So, even this first layer of growth in the Christian walk is not necessarily an easy one to take. But, if we have the desire to please and obey God, He will help us to do right in a world that says it doesn’t really matter. If we hearken back to verse 4, we see that Peter reminds us that we have become partakers of the divine nature; we have God’s Spirit in us now! We are empowered to live a good and morally upright life.
Now that we are walking the path of faith and are striving to live a godly lifestyle, it’s time to learn more about God through his Word and as His Spirit gives instruction. We can also learn from godly mentors who are further down the path than we are. Certainly, we also learn from our spiritual authorities and bible teachers. Since all flesh is prone to error, however, it is still important to gain our knowledge directly from our Source, though. Prayer, fellowship with the Lord, and really spending time in His word will deepen our understanding of Him and His ways.
Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” That’s a pretty serious statement! How often do many of us leave the “getting of knowledge” to the preacher or the studious “bible study types” and feel like for us – just the normal folk trying to follow God – that the pursuit of knowledge is optional? This couldn’t be further from the truth! God wants knowledgeable believers.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? Those on the outside of Christianity often paint our faith walk as devoid of knowledge, and we ourselves often portray this. If we are to grow in our faith, it’s apparent that a foundational component is growing in knowledge.
I used to view various virtues such as self-control in a more you’ve-got-it-or-you-don’t type of fashion. Then a few years ago, I was at a teacher training event and the presenter made a casual statement about having to practice virtues such as patience or self-control. The comment hit me between the eyes and I’ve not forgotten it since.
I can intellectually recognize that I should have already known this, having been a follower of Christ my entire life. But I guess that I somehow had bought into the thinking that lapses of self-control are really just to be expected and it’s not really that big of a deal. Boy, was I ever wrong!
Most of us are familiar with the passage in Galatians which talks about the fruit of the Spirit, not the least of which is self-control. When we are learning to follow the Spirit, we learn to control ourselves. It’s a beautiful thing!
A lesser known scripture about self-control is found in Proverbs 25:28:
A person without self-control is like a city with broken down walls.
It’s striking to consider that self-control is a source of protection in our lives. As we grow in our faith and begin practicing self-control, we are kept from sins and difficult situations. I don’t mean to suggest that trials won’t come – they will; however, those trials that come upon us because of our own foolishness or lack of control will greatly abate as we learn and practice discipline. The Spirit is our Helper!
In Part 2, we will cover patience, godliness, kindness and love from 2 Peter 1, however the theme is consistent: we must grow in our faith! We must first desire to grow and then be very intentional about the steps that we take and the virtues we practice. The inherent and comforting truth is that it is a process; we don’t have the pressure of trying to get it all right from the start. The Spirit is our faithful Guide; He will lead us into all truth as we continue to seek His will!