For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith… —2 Peter 1:5
Christians should expect to grow. It is reasonable to expect it, and reasonable to strive for it. In his letter, Peter suggests that we ought to be clear in our minds about growth in Christ, to expect it and to strive for it.
Over the centuries many interesting ideas have circulated about how a Christian is to view their own spiritual growth. Many of those teachings focus on the exercise of man’s will as the key to growth and spiritual change. Often associated with this is the word ‘surrender’. In Christian circles, we are often taught that a fully surrendered believer is the pinnacle of what it means to be a Christian.
The idea of surrender is a good one. Surrender is at the very heart of God’s plan for us: we should love the Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind and all of our strength; total Lordship; total surrender to Christ. In fact, the extent of our surrender, our heart consecration to God will be a good measure of our growth in Christ, or at least our readiness to grow.
Yet, making growth in Christ about surrender only is problematic. Is my Christian life only a matter of will power? If it is, then the Christian life will look like one endless pep rally; every teaching becomes a ‘just do it’ message. And when, not if, we experience failure, it must be because we haven’t scrunched up our personal resolve enough to get the job done.
In the religion of Christ and of the Bible, there is something else that completely dwarves surrender in its superior ability to draw us towards what we need to be and what we need to do. That superior good is reason. Our God works in us reasonably. We do what we do because at some level of our consciousness something occurs to us as reasonable.
What do I really mean by reason? Reason is the faculty of the human soul that responds either intentionally or intuitively to the world by feeling, thinking and doing. At times, reason operates in an intentional and conscious way as we respond first by thinking, and later with words and actions. We see causes and results. We look at truth and the consequences of truths and pays attention to the key connecting points. The heart sees reasons that act as motivators.
But reason doesn’t require a complicated or drawn-out intellectual process or conscious intentionality. Reason can and often does operate at the level of intuition, and so when intuition kicks in not a lot of conscious intentionality is involved.
Our lives are a thing of habit as much as reasoned action. However, when a new chain of reason enters into our view, we often don’t need to have a long drawn-out “aha” moment for the new thing to inform and change whatever it is that drives our reactions and intuitions. Man has fortunately been wired to make minor adjustments to previous habits based upon whatever new enters into his frame of reference. This is all a fancy way of describing human intuition as a flexible, living process.
Getting back to the human will, the human will is very significant and important as well. We may need a strong exercise of will or resolve to act upon reason. But first we must by reason see that a course of action or an attitude provides some kind of reasonable payoff.
Reason is obviously dependent on our prior knowledge. Knowledge in and of itself does not possess any great power or utility for us unless it becomes engaged in the faculty of human reason and is then put into practice. There is a kind of knowledge that would gladly sit adorned in horn-rimmed glasses in a large library chair filling up vacant brain cavities with factual mush. Such knowledge is an impediment, a barrier to Christian growth.
Reason, however, is knowledge on fire, with a predisposition towards action and application. Knowledge of this kind consists in facts that we believe to be true, connections between those facts and the actions they imply. Knowledge of this kind always will lead to conviction and confidence and will provide a basis for action. This basis for action is what we call reason.
Reason is the alignment of all my faculties that makes the reasonable thing desirable. When something is made desirable to man, then the way is cleared to the effort and achievement that I can give.
The effort that we expend as Christians in Christian growth is an inherently reasonable thing. Peter harkens back to what he has said before. He is in effect saying “for the reason just given, here’s what you ought to do, here’s the way you ought to go.” We need to consider why Peter thinks Christian growth so reasonable.