It was most likely 64-67 AD and toward the end of his life when the Apostle Peter sat down and penned the letter we know as Peter’s 2nd epistle. The experienced apostle wrote to those “that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). Peter begins with the words “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you …” (v2). He wrote a similar introduction in his first epistle in chapter 1: “Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (v2).

These wonderful words convey a deep love and hope from the writer to the reader. Twelve times Peter mentions the same Greek word for grace in his two epistles. The theme of grace continues in the mind of Peter, even until his last words at the end of the letter, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). What does Peter mean when he instructs us to “grow in grace”?

Grow

The word ‘grow’ is reasonably straight forward. Many of the things we see around us created by God will grow in some way or another. A tree starts off as a tiny seed and sprouts out of the ground. Over time it grows taller and thicker and develops branches and leaves. We see the cycle of growth in all living things.

The word ‘grow’ in 2 Peter 3:18 signifies a pro­longed and continual growth. Peter is saying, “keep on growing”. Growth is a lifelong and continual process. Whether we are young or old, there is always oppor­tunity to keep on growing.

In grace

The word ‘grace’ in 2 Peter 3:18 is the Greek word ‘charis’ and is often linked with peace (as seen in the opening to the epistles). This is absolutely appropriate because there cannot be true peace apart from the grace and blessings of God. The word ‘grace’ is full in depth of meaning. It combines all the themes of favour, compassion, kindness, gentleness, charm, beauty, sweet­ness of disposition, balanced and mature cheerfulness. It carries the sense of heavenliness of character. It carries the sense of freedom from the ugliness of all the natural reactions of the flesh. In essence it is the very character of God as proclaimed in Exodus 34:6­-7, “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…”

The word ‘grace’ is used in two related ways: firstly, it is used of God’s own attitude and action toward man – infinitely merciful, patient and forgiving because He loves us. We often describe it as God’s favour upon His people. He extends this favour because He is lov­ing, patient and forgiving. Examples from Scripture include Noah, for we are told in Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” Also God said to Moses, “… thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name” (Exod 33:17). Secondly, it is also used of our potential to manifest the same godliness and beauty of character, and is reflected in our attitude and actions toward one another. Grace is specifically mentioned in the relationship between Ruth and Boaz. When Boaz made special provisions for Ruth she said to him, “Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?” (Ruth 2:10). Another example is seen in the relationship between David and Jonathan. When David was discussing with Jonathan his fear of Saul he said to Jonathan, “Thy father certainly knoweth that I have found grace in thine eyes” (1 Sam 20:3). We receive the grace of God and we can also manifest grace in our relationship with others.

Jesus Christ: grace from God and grace in character

We read of Jesus in Luke 2:40: “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” From a very young age the grace of God was with Jesus. We also have Luke 2:52: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” The word “favour” is the Greek word ‘charts’ – the same word translated ‘grace’ in verse 40. Jesus increased in grace with God and man.

The disciples were eyewitnesses to the character of Christ. John said in John 1:14, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” Jesus is full of grace and truth because he fully manifested a godliness and beauty of character that reflected the character of his Father. John goes on to say, “And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (1:16-17).

The example of Christ really draws out the two related ways the word ‘grace’ is used. God loved His Son and His grace was upon him. Jesus himself mani­fested the same godliness and beauty of character and therefore grew up revealing this same grace. Grace and truth have come to us by Jesus Christ and we have the opportunity to follow his example and grow in grace.

Characteristics by which we can grow in grace

If we want to find a list of some of the characteristics we can develop in order to grow in grace, Peter provides them in 2 Peter 1:5-7. He says, “And beside this, giv­ing all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love.” These are beautiful characteristics we can develop as we grow in grace. Peter is not suggesting that these are done one after the other. He does not mean we have to master virtue before knowledge and knowledge before patience. Peter presents a simultaneous growth, like a tree with several vital branches.

When we grow in these, we grow in grace. Let us consider this simultaneous growth. It begins with faith, the belief that our God will fulfil His prom­ises through His Son. We have access to God’s grace through our faith.

We need virtue, or goodness or moral excellence in the way we deal with life and each other. We need knowledge, the type of knowledge that brings us to a deeper understanding of God and His Son, the type of knowledge that John 17:3 says will bring eternal life.

We need temperance. This is the mastery of self, disciplined moderation, controlling our desires and passions. It is the type of self-control we need to have over our flesh and also in the way we deal with others.

We need patience. The Greek word literally means to remain under something such as a heavy load. Patience is being able to endure when trials come, like the tenacious long distance marathon runner who pushes through the pain and keeps on running. James 1:3 says, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”

We need godliness. God is gracious to whom He will be gracious. On those whom God extends His grace, there is no limit. Because He loves us, He is infinitely merciful, patient and forgiving. Godliness is behaviour that reflects the character of God and presupposes a desire to please God in all relationships of life.

We need brotherly kindness (phileo love). If we have brotherly kindness we will consider the needs of our brothers and sisters. It will shape our attitude toward each other and temper the way we deal with difficult situations that may arise. Two passages confirm this need for brotherly love. Romans 12:10 says, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” and Hebrews 13:1, “Let brotherly love continue.”

We need love (agape love), meaning a self-sacrific­ing love toward each other. When Jesus gave himself as a sacrifice he did so because he loves us and because he was gracious. Like brotherly kindness, our sacrificial love will shape our attitude toward each other and tem­per the way we deal with difficult situations that may arise. Two passages that confirm this need for sacrificial love are 1 John 3:16, where we read, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (RSV), and John 13:34, which says, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you …”

If we are striving to grow in grace and be more like God and His Son, the characteristics above are essential. These will transform our thinking and the way we interact, engage and resolve issues with each other.

Examples of growing in grace

If we want to find an example of someone growing in grace, Peter gives us one in 1 Peter 2:19-21: “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” The word ‘thankworthy’ here is our Greek word ‘charis’, the same word rendered ‘grace’ in 2 Peter 3:18. This is an example of grace demonstrated when, despite facing trial and tribulation which leaves you filled with grief and sorrow, you patiently endure. It is when an innocent person suffers wrongfully and is oppressed and afflicted, yet they patiently endure. It is when you have been wrongfully attacked and almost brought to your knees in heartache and suffering but you patiently endure.

The characteristics we saw in 2 Peter 1 are all reflected in the example of grace given here in 1 Peter 2:

  • This person has virtue – they have ‘done well’
  • This person has knowledge and faith – they have a ‘conscience toward God’
  • This person has self-control and patience – they ‘take it patiently’
  • This person has godliness – they are following the example of Christ who took the same patient approach to the accusations he endured
  • This person has brotherly kindness and sacrifi­cial love – they endure the grief and suffering without taking vengeance on the perpetrator.

When we adopt the foregoing characteristics we are growing in grace. Peter frames this type of grace around the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was falsely accused, reviled, beaten, spat on, mocked and crucified. What a humbling example of grace he gave us when he hung from the cross and looked out to the crowd and prayed to his Father, ‘forgive them…’! When we are facing the most unjust and provoking circumstances and we do so with divine patience, complete peace, self-control, and a forgiving spirit, we have learned the beauti­ful characteristic of grace. To reach this point, we need to grow and keep on growing in grace. When we come out of the waters of baptism we are not instantly transformed into the most gracious and loving person alive. It takes growth and develop­ment of character. It takes faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and love.

Conclusion

Above all, we can only grow in grace by the grace of our Father. We will make mistakes and sin. There will be many times when we will fail to grow, or will even regress. Thankfully, we have the grace of our Father to forgive us and to help us get back on track. The fact that we are saved by God’s grace is one of the most positive things we can rely on. It means we don’t have to rely on our own abilities to be saved. That is what we find in Ephesians 1:7 where it says, talking about our Lord, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgive­ness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” God is our safety net: when we fall, He catches us.

What an amazing hope we have through the grace of our Father and His Son. We have a lifetime of His grace available to us. That is a positive mes­sage that will help strengthen us in our walk toward the Kingdom. In the meantime, while we await our Lord’s return, may we each endeavour to continue to ‘grow in grace’.