What I have learned about Christian growth, while studying 1 Peter, has been nothing short of amazing. It has challenged me deeply and given me great joy. It has challenged me because its vision for growth is so vastly different from that which I previously held. It has given me great joy because of the profound grace and insight the Lord has given that we would grow in respect to salvation.
Christian maturity has proven elusive. As much as we’d like to think we are growing, by the measure found in scripture, we are not doing well. In fact, I believe our commonly accepted understanding of growth in Christ is in many ways mutually incompatible with what’s revealed in scripture.
The Old Vision
If we examine the present culture’s vision for growth, compared to that which comes from scripture, it’s clear that tares had been sown among the wheat.Tweet
The tares of humanistic individualism have crept in to distort the biblical vision of Christian growth. It’s influence has caused the view of Christian growth to resemble something akin to self-actualization, with God as our chief encourager.
In this vision, God has a plan for each individual, but the plan is so high that we cannot achieve it in our infancy. Though we could scarcely conceive of the loft heights of the divine plan, suspiciously, it is inline with our own deepest desires. But God is actively involved in assisting us to realize our fullest potential. In this vision, growth is the struggle to overcome self-hatred and self-defeating negativity and believe we are gifted and able to achieve what we can conceive.
The signs of growth, in this old vision, is the courage to leave “toxic” relationships and “toxic” thinking and to believe God enough to severe ties with those who are too small-mined to catch the vision God has given. God wants you to be all you can be and the greatest threat to you achieving it is your low self esteem which cause you to cling to bad, yet comfortable, relationships.
Passionate pursuit of success is then mingled with the language of faith and endurance. Just as David had Goliath, we must also find the faith to slay the giants standing in our way. As we grow in Christ we learn to move mountains and endure the storms. And finally, through prayer and persistence, faith and fighting, we are mature enough to receive the blessings of success and the happiness it brings.
Along the way we have left many casualties. Anyone who withdraws more than they deposit into our lives, as a result of the wisdom of maturity, have been severed from our lives. They have been discarded for the sake of God’s calling. In our attempt to get rid of the tares, we have sacrificed much wheat.
The Essential Vision
The vision of Christian growth in scripture, however, has at it’s center the preservation of relationships. The essential nature of Christian growth is love for one another. This Peter will make clear in his first epistle. But he doesn’t simply ask the readers to love one another. He goes beyond asking to give a divine perspective of our salvation as if that understanding is also necessary for successful maturation.
What the Lord is doing in our lives to bring us to maturity is so beautiful that He will leave you marveling at the depths of the riches of both His wisdom and knowledge.Tweet
Saved to Love
According to the great Apostle, love for one another was in view when we were born again. In fact, Peter says that the readers understood that the reason they had purified their souls was for a love for one another.
1 Peter 1:22 (NASB95)
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,
These early believers understood that the essential character of their obedience to the Gospel was a love for each other. They understood their relationships were to be without hypocrisy. They were to have a sincere love for one another. Unlike them, however, we have seen our salvation as intensely personal.
I have always envisioned my salvation as coming into an intimate relationship with the Father, but an intimate relationship with the rest of you was not in view. When I was saved it was me and Jesus alone. Having been greatly influenced by the surrounding individualism, relationships were not only not in view, they were also expendable. There significance was small enough compared to the greater good that they could, in good faith, be abandoned. I had adopted the world’s view that relationships just don’t last always and that was okay.
The Imperishable Seed And Unceasing Love
We can fervently love one another because of the enduring nature of the seed by which we have been born again.
1 Peter 1:23 (NASB95)
for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.
Our capacity to love unceasingly is not simply a matter of our will to love, but it’s based on the nature of the Word of God. It is an imperishable seed and as result so also is our capacity to love imperishable. Just as the seed endures forever, so also our love is expected to endure forever.
The turn in the passage to the language of endurance, suggests that our relationships will endure as a result of and enduring love. While it is conceivable that relationships will come to an end due to unforeseen reasons, they should not come to an end because of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, slander and the like.
God has planted the enduring, imperishable seed of His Word in us that we would love each other unceasingly. And though all flesh may fade as the grass withers, the Word of the Lord will endure forever.Tweet
Activating the Vision
First, just get started. Make a commitment of faith to have lasting, loving relationships. Since the purification of your souls was for a sincere love, go ahead and do what you were born to do. Love unceasingly from the heart. Trust the Lord and His word to do in you what He has said it will do in you.
Second, if the capacity to love sincerely and fervently comes from the seed of the Word, while putting aside the relationship damaging vices, cultivate an appetite for the Word.
1 Peter 2:1–2 (NASB95)
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,
Cultivating a desire for the Word is of primary importance because it is by the Word that we grow in respect to salvation. Avoiding relationship vices is essential, but will prove greater than our resolve without a longing for the Word from which we grow in love.
I don’t mean to minimize the difficulties we face. Even the best relationships are hard to maintain. So we must long for the Word just as newborns long for milk.
We must long for the Word as the life-giving milk of loving relationships, without which they will not survive.Tweet
Third, loving relationships is conditioned upon the kindness of the Lord.
1 Peter 2:3 (NASB95)
3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
If the Lord’s been good to you, then be good to one another. If you’ve tasted the Lord’s kindness, then share His kindness with others. And lastly, be kind to others for as long as the Lord has been kind to you.