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.
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Here I Stand
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.