One of the greatest obstacles to faith, at least in my experience, is when people feel like Christianity doesn’t change anyone. “Christians are just like everyone else,” one might say. “What’s the point?”
This doubt isn’t limited to the skeptics. If you have been a Christian for any amount of time, you probably feel like you should be farther along than you are. That you aren’t living up to what you know is right. That even where you want to be better, you just aren’t. It can happen early in your faith; or it can happen well into maturity in your faith.
Growth in faith is absolutely possible, it absolutely changes people—and it is really hard work. You’re never too mature for this. What does the Bible teach us about Christian growth?
2 Peter is a great place to focus. This whole letter is about growth. But how? Peter gives us three principles of Christianity that we cannot forget as we think about growing.
Our motivation for growth…
First, he tells us that Christians should have a new motivation for growth. Here is how Peter puts it in 1:3-4:
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
This is a radically new vision of motivation for growth: our motivation begins with God’s divine power, God’s calling, God’s promises, God’s initiative. Supernatural growth in character, in wisdom, in freedom from sin and addiction, is possible first because of what God has done. The gospel, the good news of what God has done, is our new motivation.
Peter says we have been equipped with all things that pertain to life and godliness. When we give our lives to Christ, and His sacrifice on the cross purchases our lives, God says come grow in Me and with Me. He knows we are a mess, but He’s committed. And our response to His commitment, our motivation, starts with a joyful obedience, not a fearful one.
Our strategy for growth…
We also have a new strategy for growth. Peter continues in verse 5:
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”
Peter is very specific here about the nature of Christian growth. He says, “make every effort to supplement your faith.” We see that our initial faith in the gospel, our trust in what Jesus has done, must lead to growth. The Christian life, though motivated by a joyful obedience, must result in growth. Otherwise our faith is not genuine. That is why Peter says “supplement your faith.” This Greek word for “supplement” has the idea of rounding out your faith, completing it, making it whole or full-bodied.
Faith in this sense is where we start, and by the resources God gives – His Holy Spirit, the Bible, the church – we begin to furnish it with growth in character and wisdom, which Peter lists specifically here: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, affection, and finally love. Faith is something we always need, but it is meant to lead to real growth in our lives.
God certainly finds us and saves us no matter where we are in life, morally, emotionally, relationally. He is not afraid of our mess. But He does not want to leave us where He finds us. Growth toward Christ-likeness is the whole point of the Christian faith in many ways. It is not secondary. And it is not magical or mystical or God’s job alone. Peter says, not to God, but to us:you, all of you, make every effort to add virtue to your faith. There is work not simply for God to do, but for us to do. The growth we need is supernatural, to be sure, but it’s not magical.
It takes practice.
The Bible is so clear that the person we become, our character, is largely the product of the little habits we practice in our lives. The small decisions. The daily routines. And it even gives us disciplines, practices, to help us focus on the small things. There are many of them, but I’ll mention the “big three”: daily Bible reading, daily prayer, and consistent community with other Christians. If we just did these consistently, I think we would see dramatic results.
The idea is, if we are re-orienting ourselves to God’s Word, asking God for help and direction, and allowing other people to hold us accountable and push us on, these disciplines serve us well; they help us grow and practice being the kind of people who have the character traits Peter lists here.
Our purpose for growth…
But even with the proper motivation and strategy in place, there is something else Peter teaches here, a third thing we need to keep growing. The Christian faith also gives us a brand new purpose for growth. Read verse 10: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Peter hints that there is a divine purpose for all this stuff, all these ways in which God wants us to grow. Peter says that somehow these qualities (godliness, steadfastness, love, self-control, knowledge, etc.) are preparing us for Christ’s kingdom. Our growth, our holiness, is not the entrance fee to Christ’s kingdom, or the price you pay for the pleasures of heaven in the next life. They are the pleasures of heaven in this life, right now.
God knows the most pleasurable and free life possible is found in service, in generosity, and in faithfulness as a follower and apprentice of Jesus. Christian growth is not about making you worthy of Christ’s kingdom. It’s preparing you for it, so that you can fully experience the joy that awaits us there.
Even our growth, that part of the Christian life we often feel we owe to God, is a tremendous and good gift from Him. He doesn’t want something from us. He wants something for us. That is why Peter can say so boldly: make every effort to ADD to your faith. The more we do so, the more of heaven we can experience now—today—in our lives. Keep growing!
 The gospel is the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, which, if you trust Him above all others, saves you from sin and gives you new life.