The Christian life should be a pilgrimage of sanctification while we are walking in the light of Gods presence, having fellowship with the Lord Jesus and being continually cleansed by His blood from every sin (1 John 1:7): The path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day (Prov. 4:18). Dedication is called for:
let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Heb. 12:1).
There follows, to the end of the booklet, a summary of a guide to growth in grace by the revivalist preacher, Charles Finney, from his books, Lectures on Revival and Power from on High. These directives were given to new converts who accepted Christ as Saviour during his revival meetings:
But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).
Grace is favour. In the Bible the word grace often signifies a free gift. The grace of God is thus the favour of God, His free gift to us.
The command to grow in grace does not mean that we should gradually give up sin. Strangely enough, some people think it means that. But nowhere does the Bible command us to leave sin bit by bit. Rather, every word requires us to break with it instantly and completely. We are to grow in Gods favour, in His estimation of us and satisfaction with us and in worthiness of His favour.
Conditions of spiritual growth
The following are some of the basic conditions that must be met if we are to grow in grace:
We must already be in grace. Just as growth or increase in anything implies a beginning, growth in Gods favour implies that we have found favour in His sight. We are already indebted for grace received; as one of Gods favoured ones we are already in grace.
Our sins have been abandoned and forgiven. Growth in grace presupposes that we have already repented of sin, that in practice we have abandoned all known sin. Being approved by God implies that we are pardoned and favoured by Him for the sake of our Lord, Jesus Christ. His favour assumes that we have renounced rebellion against God. We can never stand in favour with God while we knowingly indulge in sin against Him.
Continuous growth. Once grace has started, there is room for everlasting growth. As we know God more, we will be capable of loving Him more, displaying broader and deeper confidence in Him. God reveals Himself to us through Christ Jesus, and in Him we discover the true personality of an infinite God. The text therefore says, Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The more we love, believe and know God if we conform to this knowledge the more God will be pleased with us; and as we stand higher in His favour, the more He will bless and use us in His service.
Entirely committed to God. To grow in grace we must increase in knowledge of what it means to be entirely given to God. True conversion involves consecrating ourselves and all we have to Him. New believers are not aware of everything involved in consecrations highest forms. Fully surrendering everything we are, have, desire, and love, as quickly as these objects come to mind, is a condition of growth in Gods favour. As you receive new light your consecration must enlarge by each day and each hour, or you will stop growing. Whenever you hold back, not leaving all on the altar of consecration, at that moment you cease growing. Let this truth sink deep into your heart.
Conformity to the Holy Spirits teaching. A further condition of growth is constant conformity to the Holy Spirits teachings. We are to deepen our Christian practice by seeking spiritual light through the Holy Spirits illumination. You will not gain any effective spiritual insight except through the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit. You must constantly, earnestly pray for His teaching, and guard against resisting and grieving Him. You must also continue in the attitude of a disciple of Christ. He will not teach you by His Holy Spirit unless you renounce self, live continually surrendered to Him and follow His instructions in the Bible.
Unwavering faith in God. More and more implicit faith in God leads to growth. We need a confidence in Gods character so profound that we trust Him in the dark as well as in the light, as deeply when we understand His ways and requirements as when we do not. Implicit faith is unwavering, unquestioning faith, a state of mind that rests in God, His promises, His faithfulness and love no matter how trying and apparently unreasonable His commands or guiding circumstances may be.
Complete sanctification. A more thoroughly sanctified soul the seat of our desires, affections, emotions, feelings, appetites and passions is another condition of growth in Gods favour. In its depraved condition, the human nature as a whole is hideous. Even though the will is surrendered to God, the soul may still be unsightly to those who can see its desire, passion and lust. And it is through our soul that temptation attacks us. The will battles these appetites to keep them subjected to Gods will, and if the human will maintains its integrity and clings to Gods will, sin does not occur. Nevertheless, these rebellious leanings hinder the will in serving God: For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish (Gal. 5: 17). As the soul becomes more and more subdued and in harmony with the wills devotion to God, we are free to give God unhampered service. So the more thorough the sanctification of the soul the more thoroughly we will be in Gods favour.
Filled with the Holy Spirit. Growing in God depends on an increasing presence of the Holy Spirit. Every step in the Christians life must be taken under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that in all things we will be led by Gods Spirit. Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). Remember that to grow in grace you must grow in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
A more intimate knowledge of Christ. A deeper personal, experiential knowledge of Christ and how He works and relates to us must come before growth in grace. The Bible introduces Christ as a living Person. What is said of Him should lead us to seek intimacy with Him, for through a personal relationship with Christ, God makes us like Him. Know Him in His fullness, by faith personally appropriating Christ in each area of our relationship with Him. Clothe yourself with Christ, taking Him as your own, for He is your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption; your Prophet, to teach you; your King, to govern you; your High Priest, to atone for you; your Mediator, your Advocate, your strength, your Saviour, your hiding-place, your high tower, your Captain and Leader, your shield, your defence, your reward. Know Him personally in each of these areas, appropriating Him by faith. This is an indispensable condition of growth in His favour.
False signs of growth in grace
A number of things can mislead us into thinking growth is taking place when it is not. These are false signs of spiritual progress:
· Growth in knowledge is not conclusive evidence of growth in grace. Knowledge is indispensable to walking in Gods favour, being one of the conditions of growth in grace. But knowledge itself is not grace. A person can explode in knowledge, yet have no grace at all. Knowledge of the Bible must lead to a deeper dedication to God and thus be transformed into a spiritual asset.
· Growth in gifts is not proof that an individual is living nearer to God. One who professes Christ can pray more fluently, preach more eloquently, exhort more powerfully without being any more holy. It is common for people who have no favour from God to excel in outward religious practices.
· Just because a person thinks he is growing spiritually does not mean he is. A person can be impressed with his spiritual progress when others clearly see his spiritual decline. Someone who is rotting spiritually seldom knows it. This is natural. The conscience of someone in spiritual decline will become increasingly calloused as he resists the light. He thinks he is on his way up precisely because he has less sense of sin, and while his conscience sleeps on he may continue in fatal delusion.
Proofs of growing in grace
There are also several proofs that we are growing in Gods favour and making progress in our spiritual lives:
· If you are conscious that you exercise more childlike and complete confidence in God, this proves that you are growing in grace. As your life, attitude, and spirit manifests this ever-expanding faith in God, you demonstrate to everybody that you are increasing in the favour of God.
· If you are weaned from the world and its temptations, you have grown in grace. A soul crucified to the world signals spiritual progress.
· Fewer feelings of reluctance when called to exercise self-denial reveals growth in grace. It shows that the feelings of the believer are less despotic, that the will is gaining mastery of them and that the soul is blending into harmony with the wills intent and the minds dictates.
· Less temptation to sins of omission is another sign of growth. Less temptation to shy away from the cross, from unpleasant responsibilities, from prayer, Scripture reading, private and family devotions, displays growth.
· Deepening intensity and steadiness of zeal for Gods causes reveals growth in Gods favour. Sometimes a Christians zeal cools, and at other times it warms; sometimes it is committed, at other times it is fickle and fleeting. As Christians grow in devotion, their zeal becomes deep, intense and steady.
· Withering self-consciousness and respect for self in every action of life reveals growth in Gods favour. Some people are so self-conscious about everything they say and do that it hinders their Christian life. New Christians, for example, sometimes cannot speak, pray or do anything in public without being either proud or ashamed of having performed in front of others. As they lose sight of self and consistently work for Gods glory with spiritual confidence, they grow in His favour.
· Deadness to flattery or condemnation signals growth in grace. Paul counted it a small thing to be judged by others. He sought only to find Gods approval.
· A growing graciousness in accepting the whole will of God reveals spiritual growth. Some rebel against His will or His ordering of events. But those Christians growing in grace embrace His entire revealed will with greater and greater love for it.
· Calmness in hardship evidences growth. It shows that the soul is firmly anchored in Christ, being thus able to withstand the storms of life.
· Tranquillity in the face of sudden, crushing disasters and losses. The more tranquil the soul when storms of circumstances suddenly overwhelm it, sweeping away its loved ones and destroying its earthly hopes, the greater its proof of being favoured by God.
· Patience under provocation and less temptation to worry.
· When you find that you not only tolerate but accept Gods will when it calls you to suffer, when you can endure patiently and joyfully, this shows you are growing in God.
· An increasing deadness to all the things that the world offers and to all its threats.
· Less temptation to focus on troubles or talk about them to others shows that we think less of self and accept our trials with more submission to God.
· Dwelling less on others faults and shortcomings by becoming focussed on biblical solutions to problems.
· Speech that is gentle rather than sarcastic, uncharitable or severe. A growing delicacy and tenderness in speaking of others real or supposed faults.
· An increasing reluctance to think of or treat anyone as an enemy, and an increasing ease in treating them kindly, praying for them heartily and working to do them good.
· An ability to forgive rather than hold grudges, and a lack of desire to retaliate for injuries.
· Conformity to God and growth in His grace is clearly displayed by a growing jealousy for Gods honour, and for the churchs purity in a corrupt world.
Becoming strong in faith