Growth and Confidence in Salvation

Reading time: approximately 9 minutes

In Genesis 1:1-2, we see the beginning of God’s creation. We also see that God did not make everything perfect from the beginning. It began as something “formless and void” or useless and empty. He went through a process in the rest of the chapter of bringing about something very good over the course of 6 days.

We see this kind of idea over and over again throughout the Old Testament. In the Flood, God again covered the earth with water in this case to remove evil from the earth and again brought about something good out of it. In the case of Jacob, we see God working with someone who was selfish and ignorant. Over a number of years He helped Jacob become someone who was humble and concerned for the things of God and for others. With the nation of Israel, we see God using a process to bring them out of slavery and hopelessness to make them the greatest nation on earth with the best law of any nation.

We can see this kind of idea repeated over and over. I cannot think of any example of God taking something useless and making it perfect in an instant, although He certainly had the power to do so. Even in the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, God has Ezekiel prophesy to the bones and after they become complete bodies, they are still dead until he prophesies again. We see that God’s word is always core to the process of bringing about something useful and good from something dead and hopeless.

In the New Testament, we see this idea fairly clearly in what God does for those who have true faith in Christ. In 1 Peter 1:22-2:3, we read this:

22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 24 because “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, 25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. 1 Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious (1 Peter 1:22-2:3, NKJV)

Our souls become purified when we obey the truth. This refers to obedience to the gospel in particular (since it was something that had already happened) but has with it the idea of all truth being useful for continued purification or sanctification. We are born again through the word of God. That does not mean that we are immediately useful or “very good.” We may be “formless and void” in a sense but as the light of the word of God continues to shine in our lives, we continue growing toward what God wants us to be. That is what Peter in the Spirit encourages us to do. Continue to grow by the word of God.

Sometimes, I believe that Christians feel wonderful and new (as they should) when they are baptized into Christ’s death and receive the forgiveness of their sins because of their faith in the working of God (Colossians 2:11-12). But as they continue their lives as Christians, they recognize how much they still don’t know and how often they fail in the things they do know. They begin to doubt that they are actually living faithfully and therefore doubt their salvation. I’ve certainly been there and I know many others have as well.

What faith does, however, is look to the promises of God and trust Him. So what has God promised for those who long for the milk of the word so they can grow by it? 2 Peter 1:2-11 tells us this:

2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:2-11, NKJV)

There are some attributes listed here that we must be diligent to add to our faith. These things, as everything that pertains to life and godliness, comes through the knowledge of God which comes through His word. But I want us to pay special attention to verses 10 and 11. There is a promise here of confidence we can have regarding our entrance into the everlasting kingdom of Christ. Is this promise based on perfecting these attributes? Look at verse 8. It is not as clear here in the NKJV, but most good translations make the meaning clearer. The word “abound” here actually means “continually increasing.” The point is not that we will ever perfect these attributes but that we must be diligent to continually grow in them. Spiritual death for the Christian comes when they stop relying on the grace of Christ, stop depending on the word of God, and think they have a righteousness that comes from themselves–death comes when we think we have become perfect apart from the grace of Christ and are not motivated to continue growing toward perfection.

We see this idea also in John 15:1-11 where Jesus talks about Him being the vine and Christians being the branches. As we read this, we see that we cannot bear fruit apart from being in Christ. But in the verse two verses, we read this:

1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2, NKJV)

The Father is the vinedresser. What does He do for those who bear fruit (change their lives to fit what He desires)? Does he congratulate them on making it to perfection? No, He prunes them so that they can bear even more fruit. There will always be pruning that is needed in our lives. We will always have some things we need to get rid of so that we can bear more fruit. But thankfully, through His word and providence, God works on us as long as we remain in Christ and His word remains in us. We do not need to have any doubts about our salvation based on our need for more growth. We need to recognize that continued growth is what our Father wants to see in us. We will not reach perfection on this side of heaven.

Even Paul writes about his own walk with Christ in Philippians 3:7-16, that he had not yet obtained perfection.

7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. (Philippians 3:7-16, NKJV)

He needed to continue growing. He knew that his righteousness did not come from his own perfection but through faith in Christ. He knew that God’s requirement for him and for the rest of us is not doing everything perfectly (or we could never be righteous) but rather pressing on toward the goal. God requires continued growth as we walk with Christ. I love what he says in verse 15 that those who were “perfect” or “mature” must have the same way of thinking–that they had not actually achieved perfection and still needed to grow.

Some will grow more than others but God is looking for growth (Matthew 13:8). Those who stop growing by the word of God are the ones who must doubt their salvation in Christ–and let that motivate them to start growing again so they can have confidence through the promises of God.