20 Sep Quarter Two Lesson Six
Growing in Grace
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:18 (ESV)
Peter writes to believers and instructs us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” True growth in Christianity is a growth in grace. We mature when we come to understand that God has dealt with us in grace not according to law. He has dealt with us in forgiveness, not according to the requirements of perfection.
This is a very important truth, for our perception of how God has dealt with us is often how we will deal with others. And it is absolutely disastrous to deal with others according to law, and standards of perfection, especially when we, ourselves, do not measure up to those requirements.
But what about the teachings of Jesus where He upholds the Law and requires perfection? Let us notice a couple of these passages where Jesus seems to teach law and not grace:
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV)
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)
Question 1. According to Matthew 5 above, how does Jesus Christ set the standards of living to complete perfection? What does He say that shows we must be completely obedient and perfectly righteous?
As the last and final prophet, Jesus Christ came to “magnify the Law” (Isaiah 42:21). In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus upholds God’s Law and even increases its requirements (magnifying it). He makes two statements that show how we are to measure up to God’s law:
- Jesus states that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), who were the religious leaders of the day. These leaders had memorized the entire Old Testament Bible and even wore parchments of the Scriptures on their heads in special boxes called phylacteries.
- Jesus says that we must be perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). There is no higher standard than perfection.
In the middle of those two statements Jesus increases the standards for holy living by dealing with the heart. The Law said we should not murder, but Jesus taught that if we even get angry with our brother we are in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:22).
The Law taught that we should not commit adultery, but Jesus raised the bar even higher, saying if we even lust in our minds we have committed adultery in our hearts. Saying that it would be better if we “cut off our right hand” and “pluck out our eye” (Matthew 5:30) if they cause us to sin. In light of His words none of us has a chance. To be perfect in action and thought is impossible for us.
So how are we to understand these statements? How are we able to be more righteous than the Pharisees, and be as perfect as God Himself is?
We are to understand these requirements in light of the teaching of the rest of the Bible, which tells us that the purpose of the Law is to make us aware of sin and then lead us to Christ, there to be saved by grace:
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. Romans 3:20 (NIV)
So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Galatians 3:24 (NIV)
Question 2. According to Galatians 3:24 and Romans 3:20, what is the stated purpose of the Law?
So now we have the understanding that the purpose of the Law was to make us aware of our sin and then to lead us to Christ. In days gone by a tutor would take a child by the hand and lead him to school, and in the same way the Law leads us straight to Jesus.
What this means is that when we read the Law, we ought to understand that we are unable to meet its requirements. Instinctively we fear the punishment that the Law set forth. Then we hear about Jesus, and what He accomplished on the cross for us, and we see our way out of the punishment of the Law. We see that if we put faith in Christ we are saved. His perfect love, displayed through His death on the cross, then casts out our fear (1 John 4:18), and we live in worship of our Lord and Savior.
In other words, the purpose of the Law of God was to show us how far short we fall, so that we might run to Jesus and be saved by faith in Him. This should be clear when we read Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5, for who has ever been as perfect as God in heaven? Who has never failed once, or always lived in complete obedience to God’s Law? Not one of us: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 (NIV)
The Law set a very high standard of living, one that nobody except Jesus could meet. When we see the Law’s demands we should shudder and exclaim, “but I can’t do that, I don’t measure up!” And then run quickly to Jesus, to be saved by grace, through believing in Him and trusting in Him.
In this lesson we are discovering how to grow in grace in our Christian life, and to do this we must fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) and always look to His finished work on the cross (Hebrews 12:3).
Growing in grace means we acknowledge that we are not saved or sanctified by our own efforts to be obedient, but rather through Jesus and His obedience unto death. We acknowledge that we do not and cannot measure up to God’s standards; but Jesus did, and when we believe in and take refuge in Him then in Him we do measure up. This is grace. And this is exactly why Jesus could tell a thief dying on the cross beside Him, “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The thief measured up—in Christ!
For the rest of this lesson we are going to study a passage that shows us how to receive God’s grace more and more. Please read the following Scripture and answer the questions below:
Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. Hebrews 13:9-13 (ESV)
Question 3. According to Hebrews 13:9, how are our hearts to be strengthened?
The book of Hebrews in the Bible contrasts the greatness of Jesus Christ with the entire Old Testament. It teaches us that Jesus is greater than the angels (chapters 1 and 2), greater than Moses (chapter 3), greater than the Tabernacle (the Old Testament worship building), greater than the entire sacrificial system, greater than the High Priests of the Old Testament (chapters 4-7), and greater than the Law (chapters 9-13). In chapter 13, the author of Hebrews is contrasting Jesus versus the Old Testament system of worship.
In this chapter the writer says we are to be strengthened by grace. That is, you should understand that God loves you and gave His Son for you, and that even though you don’t measure up to the requirements of perfection, God has accepted you, forgiven you and saved you because of Jesus’ perfect life and final sacrifice on the cross.
Let this knowledge strengthen you, mature you, make you strong in the Lord. If you were to depend on your Law-keeping to make you right with God you would be weakened. Every time you stumbled in sin, failed to do the right thing, you would be weakened and discouraged and feel like a failure. As it is, you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14); you are saved through the accomplishments of Jesus. Be strengthened by this understanding.
Question 4. According to Hebrews 13:10, from what are believers to eat?
Believers are to eat at an altar. An altar is where sacrifice happened, so clearly this is a reference to the cross, where Jesus sacrificed Himself for us. But how do we eat at the cross? The answer is that we are to feed ourselves on forgiveness and grace. We are to fill ourselves with the understanding that because Jesus died, we will live forever. We are to satisfy our hearts with the understanding that because Jesus was rejected, we are accepted.
And this feasting is to be a daily delight! Even as we eat physical food every day, we are to go to the cross daily to receive fresh grace and feed on the love of God that is exhibited there. “He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love” (Song of Solomon 2:4). This is how we become strengthened by grace. It is how we grow and mature. We learn to feed on grace at the altar of the cross, and to drink of the river of His grace “which makes glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:4).
Question 5. According to Hebrews 13:11, where were the bodies of sacrifices burned?
The bodies of the sacrifices were burned “outside the camp”; meaning away from the religious people of the Law. When Jesus was crucified He was taken outside the camp of the Israelites, outside the city gates of Jerusalem.
Question 6. According to Hebrews 13:12, what was the purpose of Jesus suffering?
Here is grace for the heart: Jesus suffered to sanctify us. That is, He was stripped, beaten and crucified, the purpose of which was to set us apart to God and make us acceptable to God.
Let this truth sink in to your heart just now. Jesus suffered for you. He was crucified for you. This truth is to be food for your heart, it is to strengthen, satisfy and nourish you. One writer of the Bible, Paul, told a young man by the name of Timothy to be “nourished up in the words of faith and good doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:6), even so we are to likewise feed on the good news of what Jesus did for us. This is how we are strengthened by grace, and how we grow and mature.
Question 7. According to Hebrews 13:13 where are we to go to find Jesus?
To find Jesus, we are to go “outside the camp”. In context, what the author is referring to, is that we are to go outside of Judaism (the religion of the nation of Israel); we are to go outside the religious ceremonies and the Law, and there we will find Jesus. In other words, we are not to try to be righteous within the system of the Law but rather we are to go to Jesus and there find our righteousness and our perfection. This is all grace.
Here is the real truth about grace: God set the standard impossibly high for any human to meet—absolute perfection. Jesus came and raised the bar, stating that sin is not merely actions we do, but also thoughts we think. So because we could not meet the standard, Jesus Christ came to this earth and lived a perfect life in our place. Now, all of His perfect living is credited to the account of the one who believes in Him. This is pure grace.
Friend, if you have put your faith in Jesus, all of His righteous living is given to you, as if you had lived perfectly, as if you had lived exactly like Jesus. Now, in Jesus Christ, you measure up! What grace!
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, Romans 8:3 (ESV)
Through Jesus’ perfect life, death and resurrection God did for us what we could never do, and He counts us as having fulfilled the law in Him. In Jesus, we met all of God’s requirements. In Jesus, we are more righteous than the Pharisees, and in Jesus we are as perfect as God Himself.
Let this understanding strengthen you, encourage you, and mature in your Christian life:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 Timothy 2:1 (ESV)
Question 8. Are you gaining a good understanding of what it is like to grow in grace? From what this lesson has taught so far, what do you need to do to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ?
In closing, let us consider how this growing in grace might evidence itself in our lives. Reflect for a moment on this: since God has given us so much grace at the cross, shouldn’t we likewise give others grace? God has forgiven our sins, shouldn’t we forgive others?
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13 (NIV)
Question 9. How are we to treat other people?
This is truly an evidence that we are growing in grace, when we receive the grace that God has for us, and turn right around and give it out to others. Whereas in the past we may have required people to measure up, to live right, to keep the law or suffer the consequences; now we love and forgive as we have been loved and forgiven. What an oxymoron, to speak of grace received but to give none of it to others. To receive grace ourselves, but require others to live by law.
Question 10. Please take a moment and summarize the teaching of this lesson. How are you doing growing in grace?