Growth is one of the surest signs of healthy life. It is so, whether in the vegetable or animal kingdom, nor is it otherwise in the realm of grace. Growth, therefore, we expect to see in every Christian. In Nature, at a certain point, growth stops and decay sets in, but with the believer it should continue all his earthly days.
No sensible person expects the convert of yesterday to be anything but a babe. But we do not expect him to remain a babe. With a keen appetite for wholesome spiritual food, a good digestion, plenty of Heaven's fresh air and exercise, he is bound to grow And the scripture, "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pe. 3:18) applies to every one of us.
WHAT IS GROWTH?
Growth has no direct connection with age. - A man may be gray hair with years, and have passed many a milestone since his conversion, and yet be spiritually a stunted child. Some of the Hebrew believers were like this. They were stumbling over the Christian alphabet when they should have been teachers, and needing milk when they should have been fit for strong meat. (See Heb. 5:12-14).
Growth is not necessarily connected with what we do. - There may be much earnestness and activity, yet no growth. The Ephesian Christians sadly exemplified this in their later years. When the Apostle Paul wrote his epistle to them, they were like a tree planted by rivers of waters, green and vigorous; but when the Lord Jesus addressed them through His servant John, though recognizing their works, labour, and patience, He had to say, "Thou hast left thy first love. Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen." The top shoot of the fair young tree had been nipped by frost, and growth was stopped. (See Rev. 2:1-7).
Growth does not even depend upon what we know. - Our mental development may far outstrip our spiritual. An "infant prodigy," whatever he may be in musical or educational circles, is a pitiable object in the Christian sphere, and comes to a bad end. The novice, if capable of seizing abstractions, may speedily grasp much truth in his mind, but let him not assume that he has therefore become a giant and able to instruct his grandfather.
Under this delusion some of the Corinthian believers fell. They were enriched in "all knowledge" (1 Co. 1:5); they were assumed to be wise (1 Co. 3:18); they all attempted to be teachers (1 Co. 14:26); they even began to let their minds run riot with the cardinal truth of resurrection (1 Co. 15:12, 35). As a matter of fact, they were ignorant (1 Co. 6:2-3, 9, 15, 19; 8:2; 10:1; 12:1; 14:38; 15:36), fleshly, and but babes (1 Co. 3:1-3). They used their "knowledge" to the damage of some of their brethren (1 Co. 8:11). Such knowledge only puffs up. Love builds up (1 Co. 8:1).
Growth therefore is altogether a question of what we are. - The very epistle that exhorts us to "grow in grace" opens with a fine statement of what it really is. It runs thus: "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity (or love)" (2 Pe. 1:5-7).
With faith we all have started. But to it virtue or courage must be added, if it is to count for much. Courage needs to be controlled by knowledge. Knowledge to be tempered with moderation. Moderation to develop into patience (or endurance). Endurance begets godliness. Godliness produces and develops brotherly kindness. Love, Divine Love, crowns the whole and welds all together in the heart of the believer.
These things, notice, are to be "in us and abound" (2 Pe. 1:8). They are not to be put on as a man puts on a coat, but to be produced inwardly in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that they become part and parcel of ourselves. The Apostle Peter was really desiring that the features of the beautiful life of Christ should be reproduced in these believers.
Growth, then, is a question of character. As we grow we are molded more and more into conformity to CHRIST.
ARE YOU GROWING?
Ask yourself, then: "Is this kind of thing going on with me? Is there beneath my Christian activity and increase of Bible knowledge a sturdy development of Christian character?" Having asked, answer with candour and great care.
In thus doing, however, a danger lurks. While nothing is so helpful as honest self-judgment before God, nothing is more harmful than allowing this necessary inspection to degenerate into self-occupation. Beware of getting your thoughts morbidly centered upon yourself.
Three children, let us suppose, have little gardens prettily marked out in their father's grounds. How very different they look! In this one the weeds grow rank and long, the flowers few and feeble. No traces of a trowel and rake and watering-pot! In the second all is tidy, the weeds kept well down, and the flowers, if not high-class, are healthy; while the third shows marks of much labour. Indeed, it is almost painfully tidy, but every flower is either drooping or dead. How easy it is from the state of the gardens to divine the character of the children! And if the careless, go-as-you-please style of number one is to be deplored, the feverish anxiety which led number three to continually pull up one and another of the plants to see how the roots were getting on is almost as disastrous from a practical point of view.
Avoid both extremes. May the good Lord deliver you from that careless and easy-going kind of religion which never allows you to honestly ask yourself the question: "Am I really growing in grace?" for fear of being disturbed; and also from the morbid self-occupation which leads YOU to be always asking yourself that question, and everlastingly tugging up everything in your poor heart by the roots in the endeavour to answer it.
Hit the happy mean by facing the question with the heart in the sunshine of the love of Jesus, and if driven to the conclusion that your growth is but small, let it spur you cheerfully on to know more of Christ.
IN WHAT DO WE GROW?
It is important to remember that as believers we stand in the grace (or favour) of God (see Ro. 5:2), and hence it is we are told by the Apostle Peter to "grow in grace."
Grace, then, is the soil in which the believer is planted. Not the world, though if one judged by the ways of some Christians, one might almost think so. Though all believers stand in grace, many so surround themselves with a worldly atmosphere that all progress is stopped.
It is very easy for us to abjure the world in the abstract, whilst heavily indulging in its pleasures in detail.
To illustrate this. Some time ago a prayer meeting was being held. Considerable fervour was manifested in the meeting. A man commenced to call upon God. In earnest tones he cried: "Lord, save us from the world!" "Amen! Amen!" rose in loud chorus from all parts of the building. A moment's pause, then: - "Lord, save us from the tobacco!" Dead and ominous silence! It seemed to kill the meeting. You may not approve of praying in this fashion, but it shows how easy it is to pray to be preserved from the world in the abstract and to cherish it in detail.
Solomon's vines, remember, were nipped and spoiled by the "little foxes" (So. 2:15). There were plenty of them, and being small, they crept in without attracting much attention.
Many Christians, too, suffer from living in an atmosphere of law. They live and move, read and pray, serve and worship, by rule. No one can expect to grow if encased in cast iron!
How sweet is the liberty that grace gives! Liberty, I say, and not license. For the grace that brings salvation also teaches "that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Ti. 2:12).
Let us strike our roots deep down into grace. Let us bask in its sunshine. Oh! the humbling, soul-subduing effect of knowing that, in spite of all we find in ourselves, the sweet and perfect favour of God rests upon us because of Christ, and nothing can separate us "from the love of God which is in" - not ourselves but - "Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ro. 8:39).