Grow in Grace: 2 Peter 3:18
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
To Him be glory now and forever.
This passage is everywhere cited by those who deny the doctrine of the Higher Life in disproof of that doctrine…. When individuals are urged to put away at once all sin, and accept of Christ as a complete Savior from its power, their reply is: We do not believe such a doctrine as that.
We believe, on the other hand, in growing in grace, that is, in becoming gradually less and less sinful, and more and more holy.
Hence the advocates of the Higher Life are accused of a disbelief in Christian growth, the quite common belief being that should we “cease from sin,” we should cease altogether to “grow in grace.” On this doctrine we remark:
1. That if it is true that growth in grace implies, as is here affirmed, present sin, then undeniably Christ was a sinner and was conscious of the fact. In Luke 2:52, it is affirmed absolutely that Christ did grow in grace. “And Jesus increased (grew) in wisdom and stature, and in favour (grace) with God and man.”
The word here rendered favor is the identical world rendered grace in the passage under consideration. We have, then, “Growth in
grace,” as a matter of fact, in the total absence of all sin, and the precept “grow in grace” does not of itself imply at all the presence of sin in any form.
2. If the command “grow in grace” implies the presence of sin in the heart, and such growth implies a gradual giving-up of sin, then God has given us a positive command not to cease from all sin at once, but to do it gradually. We cast infinite dishonor upon God when we impute to Him any such precept as that….
3. If the precept “grow in grace” requires, and it does so according to the exposition under consideration—if it requires an advancement from certain degrees of sin to others less sinful, and from states of imperfect holiness to others less imperfect, then it is impossible for us to intend obedience to this precept, and at the same time intend full obedience to the will of God.
It is a contradiction in terms to suppose that we can aim at the same moment at perfect and imperfect obedience to the will of God. An exposition that renders the divine precepts, as this probably does, thus contradictory, cannot be true.
4. Peter, before he wrote the above precept, we remark finally, set forth, under the immediate inspiration of the Spirit, the renunciation of all sin as the first condition of real growth in grace. “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings” (in other words, all sin), “as newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.”
Sin in the new-born soul is not more necessary to growth in holiness or grace than is disease in the new-born babe requisite to its normal physical growth and development. Sin in the new-born soul is there as a moral and spiritual disease and renders its moral and spiritual growth unhealthy and unnatural, just as disease in the new-born babe renders its growth dwarfish, phthisical, or consumptive.
When we have “put off the old man which is corrupt after the deceitful lusts” and “put on the new man which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness,” then and only then are we prepared to “grow up in Christ in all things.”
When growth in grace in the churches shall accord with God’s revealed conditions and method, there will be “none sickly and none feeble” among their members. Wherever the old and unscriptural idea shall obtain, there will be none among them but “the sickly and the feeble.”
Asa Mahan (1799–1889) was a U.S. Congregational clergyman and educator serving as the first president of Oberlin College (OH), president of Adrian College (MI), and a trustee for Lane Seminary while pastoring in