Growing in Grace
Knights for Jesus
When my oldest son was six years old, we went on a Father-Son campout together, along with some of the other fathers and sons from our church family. It was a lot of fun, at least as much fun as you can have with a bunch of six-year old boys who had to go to the bathroom at the worst possible times. All kidding aside, it was a special time I’ll always cherish. We had fun, acted silly, made a fire, and hiked in the woods, all the things you’re supposed to do on a father-son campout. What really made the campout special was the spiritual theme of the weekend. We told the boys they were in training to become godly men. And the “bigger-than-life” vision we held before them was they were in training to become, “Knights for Jesus.”
We told them a knight, back in the Middle Ages, was called to be faithful to Christ, selfless, courageous, and wise. After a man became a knight, he was no longer to pursue his own agenda, but God’s. He wasn’t expected to fight in his own strength, but with the strength of God. There was a great celebration on the day a man became a knight. The rest of his life would be dedicated to living out that commitment.
There’s an important connection between what we shared with those six-year-old boys on that camping trip and what this chapter is about, God’s Sanctifying grace.
Grace from Beginning to End
Grace is the undeserved or unmerited favor of God. In earlier chapters we saw there are different ways to understand God’s grace, according to the time in our lives we experience it. Prevenient grace, for example, is the grace of God that goes before us, drawing us to God (even before we’re aware of God) and awakening us to our need for Christ. God’s Justifying grace is the grace of God that enables us to say yes to what God has done for us, in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ. It’s the grace that enables us to enter into a right standing or right relationship with God.
However, what we need to remember about all these understandings of grace is this: All grace is God’s grace – from beginning to end. The different names for our experience of grace, prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying, are simply ways for us to understand how God is working in our lives.
Continuing with the knight imagery, before a boy became a knight, he spent his life in preparation to become one. He would first serve as a page and then a squire, learning all about what it meant to be chivalrous, godly, and so forth. He was on a track that would one day lead him to become a knight and enable him to live like one the rest of his life.
I think that looks a great deal like prevenient grace in the Christian experience. It’s a time of preparation. Prevenient grace is the work of God that prepares you from the time you are born to the day you give your life to Christ.
Then there’s the great ceremony where the boy who reached manhood finally becomes a knight. With a great ceremony he pledges his loyalty to his king. Similarly, we experience God’s justifying grace when we pledge ourselves to our King – the King of kings – and enter into a right, deep, and personal relationship with him.
That leads us to our focus in this chapter, Sanctifying grace. What is it?
Sanctifying Grace is the grace of God that provides us with the desire and the power to grow in our relationship with God and to become increasingly like Christ.
Sanctification is a vital concept for us to understand and embrace. Our Christian walk doesn’t end the moment we give our lives to Christ. That’s just the beginning. A mentor of mine once told me the Christian faith isn’t hard, it’s impossible. It’s impossible, that is, if you’re trying to live it out on your own, in your own power.
Instead, just as we’re justified (saved) by grace through faith in Christ, we’re also sanctified (made holy or Christlike) by grace through faith in Christ. God is our power. In fact, in John 15, Jesus teaches,
John 15:4-5 – Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Vine, Branches, Fruit
Christ is the vine. His life-giving power has to flow from him into us, just as the life-giving, life-preserving nutrients of a vine have to flow into its branches or else the branches will die. Those life-giving nutrients of the vine flow into and through the branches which enable the branches to bear fruit.
Just like those branches, God wants you to bear fruit. And not just fruit, but good fruit. And not just good fruit, but much good fruit. And not just much good fruit, but much good fruit that will last.
John 15:7-8 –  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Jesus tells us there are two reasons he wants us to bear fruit. First, because it glorifies God, and second, because it shows the world, we’re his disciples.
But bearing fruit for the long haul is hard. Our journey, like a knight’s, is filled with winding roads, peaks, valleys and all sorts of obstacles. Pilgrim’s Progress is a great allegory of a man who experiences the trials and temptations of the Christian life as he heads toward the Celestial City. It describes the man before his conversion, hearing the gospel for the first time, and through various experiences (prevenient grace) comes to lay his burdens at the foot of the cross and places his trust in Christ (justifying grace).
What struck me the first time I read the book was that the first two parts of the book make up only a very small part of the man’s journey. Most of the book is dedicated to his sanctification – the idea of walking with and for Christ throughout the rest of his life, until he reached the Celestial City.
Walk the Walk
It’s interesting how often the Bible uses the imagery of “walking” to describe what it means to carry on a close relationship with the Lord. For example,
Those verses give us the marching orders to “walk the walk,” and not just “talk the talk.”
How do we “walk the walk?” I’ve already said the road is hard. We can’t do it on our own. That’s what sanctifying grace is all about. The question is, what does sanctifying grace look like in our daily lives? How can we experience it?
In keeping with our vine, branch, and fruit imagery, I will use the word RIPE to describe this idea. If you’ve ever been on the Walk to Emmaus spiritual retreat, you may have heard some version of this.
The R stands for Restoring our relationship with God and others. One of the results of our sinful nature is our fractured relationships with God, other people, and ourselves. Through God’s grace, those relationships can become whole again, at least closer to becoming what God wants them to be.
Perhaps you’ve discovered in your own life, upon occasion, you and someone you’re very close to get into an argument. Maybe you’ve noticed one of the characteristics of those arguments is how often the sin of pride makes an appearance.
In my life I have often found the argument isn’t about whatever it was originally thought to be. After a while, it becomes a turf war, with neither person wanting to give in. It’s when God’s Spirit starts convicting me of sin, I begin to realize I’m being proud, stubborn, and selfish.
That’s when I discover I must say two of the hardest words in the English language, “I’m sorry.” They must be followed with, “I was wrong, will you please forgive me?” I know they may be hard words to say, but it’s only as they are genuinely spoken that true restoration of the relationship can begin to take place. That’s an example of God’s sanctifying grace at work. It’s as his grace works in and through us over the course of a lifetime, we become more like Christ than when we first began.
That’s our goal, isn’t it? We want to be able to say, “I’m not yet where God wants me to be, but by God’s grace I’m not where I once was.”
Our next letter is “I,” which stands for Imparting new life, new light, new strength, and a new heart.
As we continue to faithfully walk with God, he pours out his sanctifying grace upon us. This is the process by which the righteousness of Christ is imparted to us. It progressively becomes a part of who we are. As we grow in God’s grace, we begin to look more and more like Christ in our daily lives.
I adore my children. I thank God for them each and every day. Yet I must say my beloved children have taught me one very important doctrine of the Christian faith. The doctrine of Original Sin. Why? Because, I never had to teach my children to be selfish or self-centered. That’s true of all children, isn’t it?
Sin is part of our spiritual DNA at birth. Thus, one of my jobs as a father is to serve as an agent or ambassador of God’s justifying and sanctifying grace in the lives of my children. Think of it this way: I work for the King, and he wants me to help steer my children toward him. He also wants me to help them know him, love him, and become like him.
That’s going to take God imparting Christ’s righteousness into my children’s lives through grace. As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. So too, you can lead a person to Christ, but it’s God alone who changes a person’s heart.
The third letter is “P.” The “P” stands for “Perfecting us in the image of God and the likeness of Jesus Christ.”
We were all created in the image of God. However, sin messed that image up. It’s not gone completely, but the image is stained. When we place our trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we are RE-created. The result of this RE-creation is we become new creations in Christ.
2 Cor. 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Galatians 6:15 – Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.
Because of the imputed righteousness of Christ, we are able to stand in a right relationship with God. He no longer sees us as sinful people. He sees us as new creations who’ve been redeemed by his Son.
But then God says something very important to us. God declares, “Go and be who you are. You are holy, now go and be holy. You are a new creature in Christ, now go and live like a new creature in Christ.”
Hebrews 6:1 says we must go on to maturity in Christ. The Apostle Paul confesses,
Philippians 3:12-14 – … I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Emphases added)
Sanctification is about going on to maturity, pressing on toward the goal, and straining toward what is ahead. We must not remain content where we are. Each day should be marked by striving, by God’s grace and power, to become more like Christ than we were the day before.
Equipping the Saints
The final letter is “E,” which stands for “Equipping us to do the work of Christ in the world – to be the hands and feet of Christ.”
In the Great Commandment Jesus reiterated the Old Testament by teaching that we’re called to love God with all we are. Christ reminded us the second great commandment is like it. We’re to love our neighbors as ourselves. In the Great Commission Jesus told us we’re to go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to obey everything he commanded. How do we do that? How can we build Christ’s Church and extend his Kingdom into every sphere of life?
The answer is God equips his children with gifts for ministry to accomplish the mission he sets before us. Every follower of Christ has at least one spiritual gift that God has given him or her for the building up of his body. That means every one of you who calls Jesus Lord and Savior, has been gifted by him so he can use you to minister to his church and the world, in his name, and for his glory. That’s what it means to be equipped by God.
It’s All About Grace
This is the heart of who we are as followers of Christ. The Apostle Peter encourages us with these words at the end of his second epistle. He writes,
2 Peter 3:18 – …grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
Growing in the grace of God is what sanctification is all about. We start off in grace, before we’re even aware of it. We’re given the power to turn from our old destructive and selfish ways and place our trust in Christ alone. From that day on we’re supported, empowered, nurtured, and guided by God to live the life to which he calls us. From beginning to end, it’s all about God’s grace.
Loving God and Neighbor
The Shape of Love
Love is love. This unhelpful tautology has seemingly won the day with Christians and non-Christians alike. It works well as a slogan but offers little substance for how God calls us to live a life of love. Instead, the Bible teaches us there is a shape to love. The love God calls us to looks like something. It has content to it. It is first and foremost received from God, then directed back to God, and then, lived out toward neighbor. It’s sacrificial, others-centered, joyful, and obedient. This life of love is the Way of the Lord, and the reason for the title of this study.
The Ten Commandments are an expression of the love Jesus commands in his summary of the Law. The great commandment is to love God with our whole being and the second commandment is like it, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But even that word from our Lord Jesus is general, and even vague. Yet he could speak in such a way because he knew he was summarizing something more detailed and specific, something his first-century audience would have understood.
In speaking of the two great commandments, Jesus was really summarizing the moral Law of God, the Ten Commandments. The first table of the law, for example, which contains the first four commandments, focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on our love for God. The second table addresses the nature of neighbor-love, which as we learn throughout Scripture, is also an expression of our love for God.
In other words, the way of loving God and neighbor looks like something specific. The commandments are not platitudes. They are concretely helpful. And the rest of Scripture is a commentary on what this love for God and neighbor looks like. The prophets, Jesus, and the apostles all shed light on the height, width, and depth of what it means to love God and others in the way God has prescribed in the Ten Commandments.
More Than Meets the Eye
By the time of the first century, many in the Jewish religious community had reduced the Ten Commandments to external rules and regulations that could be manipulated. But Jesus came along and reminded them that obedience to the Law had always involved the motives of one’s heart. It was not merely about behaving in the right way. It had always been about doing the right things, in the right way, for the right reason, with the right attitude.
Of course, a standard like that immediately leads one to self-discovery, or at least it ought to. When you come to understand, for example, that “not murdering” another person is more than not taking the life of another person, but includes not hating them or being unrighteously angry toward them, you begin to realize how far you fall short.
Furthermore, when you consider that each commandment carries with it a positive side, such as desiring that same person’s best interest and doing what you can to help them, then a legalistic framework really begins to crumble. Such a realization ought to cause us to run to the grace of God found in the work of Christ, for he was the only one who faithfully lived out a perfect life of righteousness. His sacrificial love on the Cross paid for our inability to live a life of perfect obedience to God’s Law.
Morality Revealed by God
What we learn as we study the Ten Commandments is that morality is fundamentally theological. That does not mean irreligious people cannot live moral lives, but it does mean when they do so, they are borrowing from a theistic framework. For their worldview cannot justify their way of living. There are secular forms of ethics. But those systems are usually forms of utilitarianism. They base their view of what is right and wrong on whether something works (whatever “works” means) for the common good (whatever “common good” means).
A secular ethic is not grounded in that which is immutable, transcendent, and objective. It is not a revealed ethic. It is dependent on king or crowd. What is considered normal, or even good, is determined, so to speak, in the voting booth of public agreement and alignment. Absent from such a worldview and ethic is an objective standard, revealed by an immutable and transcendent Creator, who not only created the universe, but also each and every person, in God’s own image.
Christians believe that having such an ethical standard is good, not only for individuals, but for families, communities, workplaces, societies, and ultimately, the world. A commitment to such an ethic does not mean every moral decision is clearly understood or that every command is easily interpreted and applied in every situation. But it does mean we have a firm foundation from which to start as we seek to faithfully live in this world.
Contrary to popular notions, freedom does not mean being untethered to any moral restrictions in one’s life. Nor is desiring to obey God a form of legalism. Instead, we should understand that obedience to God is true love. And this kind of love produces real freedom, which is the ability to live the life for which we were created.
That is not a life of legalism or bondage. The Law of God provides freedom to become all that God created and redeemed us to be, as well as delivering us from a path of self-destruction and potentially hurting others along the way. We don’t live this way in order to earn points with God, but such a life is evidence that God is doing a great work in us. God is molding and shaping us into something we cannot possibly imagine – his grand masterpiece – the very likeness of his Son. How could such knowledge lead us to anything but joyful and grateful obedience?
The heart is the heart of the matter. God gave us his moral law to reveal to us his character and will for our lives. God’s Law does provide structure and rails to keep us safe. God revealed this way of life for us because he has our best interest at heart. He really does want what is best for us and thus has revealed the way for us to live.
But more than that, in and through Christ, God has recreated us once again in his image. His very Spirit indwells us. God not only wants us to live this way because it is best for us. God wants our hearts. He wants us to desire to live this way because we love him, want to please and glorify him, and because we love others. He wants us to love what he loves.
It is God’s sanctifying process for helping us become like him… in what we desire, the way think, how we speak, and in the manner in which we conduct ourselves in this world. And not only is this what is best for us here and now, but God is also training us for eternity. Thanks be to God.
A Word About Each Lesson
It will not take you long to see that some of the study questions have many Bible verses to look up. You might even say an obnoxious amount of Bible verses. And that’s true. But they are there for a few important reasons.
First, they are included to show you how widely the Bible speaks on the particular commandment of each lesson. These Ten Commandments are not isolated only to Exodus and Deuteronomy. They are repeated, interpreted, and applied throughout the rest of Scripture.
Second, the verses are there to reveal that God’s commands are not to be understood and applied in a simplistic fashion. The Ten Commandments are not only prohibitions. That is, they are not only forbidding us to behave in certain ways, but they also point us to the birthplace of those behaviors. Our desire for sin festers in the human heart and sometimes finds its ways into our thought-life, as well as the words we speak and the actions we take.
Third, the variety of Scripture is there to remind you that there are positive, godly ways to live out the commands. The Ten Commandments are not merely a list of things not to do. They also guide us in a God-honoring, life-affirming, Christlike way of living in this world.
The Last Reason for All the Scripture
And that brings us to the last reason for all the verses, which is also why we have the Law in the first place. The first time I read the Sermon on the Mount, with a level of maturity and understanding, I immediately understood how far short I fell of living according to this standard that Jesus had set before me. And frankly, I was distraught. What hope did I have of faithfully and consistently living in this way, even if I tried my best every single day? And who among us does that?
But that was also a key moment in my life for understanding grace. It’s the point of the Law, at least a part of the point. We cannot perfectly live this prescribed way of the Lord. Yet it is still the standard. So, what do we do? We turn to Christ, who did perfectly live it out. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior of the world, Lord of all creation, and Light of life did perfectly fulfill all righteousness in his life, death, and resurrection.
His sacrificial and substitutionary life, death, and resurrection is what we trust in. We trust in him, not only to forgive us for our sins, but to impute his righteousness to our account. We died with Christ in his death and were raised to new life with Christ in his resurrection. And now, not only are we forgiven; not only are we new creatures in Christ; but the very Spirit who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead lives in each person who trusts in him. Therefore, Christ can live his life in and through ours.
And When We Stumble
We are not called to live the way of the Lord in our own strength. But Christ guides and empowers us through his gracious Spirit. The reason God has revealed this way to us is for us to become like Christ. It’s the path by which we are progressively molded and shaped into his likeness by the Spirit of love.
We will stumble along the way. But even the grief and conviction we experience when we fail is the gift of a loving Father disciplining those he loves. His discipline is gracious correction to get us moving along the right path once again.
My Advice for Each Lesson
Thus, my advice is to answer each question however you see fit. You can write down your reflections for each verse of Scripture. Or, you can read all the verses and write down your summary statement of what they all mean. Or, you can read half of them, a third of them, or even a fourth of them. It’s up to you. My goal is not to provide you with a legalistic framework in a study which hopes to show you why legalism is neither godly nor livable.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least encourage you to go the extra mile and try to read as many verses as you can in each lesson, and to think deeply about this way of the Lord prescribed for us. If you think about the character of God and the ways he has worked throughout redemptive history, then you recognize that even though we may not understand all the things God has included in his Word, we should realize that there are no “throw away” verses. They are all there for a reason, especially when they relate to who he his is, his way of salvation, and his path to holiness.
Ultimately, we are here to glorify God. We want to please our loving God so that when others see our good works, they will give praise to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). My prayer is that this study will enlighten, encourage, and equip you to know God’s will, the way of the Lord, and that by it, God’s Spirit will carry on to completion the great work he has already begun in you until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
Here I Stand
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.