How to Grow in Grace: Step One

As I walk’d through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a Dream. –John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

This is how John Bunyan begins his classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress. He illustrates what it looks like to become and grow as a Christian. The allegory is carried along the path of a journey. In that journey, there are many twists and turns. Many setbacks but ultimate progress. It is fundamentally a journey of grace, yet not without confusion.

In the book, How People Change, I say, “Nothing is more obvious than the need for change. Nothing is less obvious than what needs to change and how that change happens (p. 17).” Can you identify with that sentiment? Sometimes change can feel so elusive.

For example, Dan has struggled with the same temptation for years. He has tried countless times to change but to no avail. He doesn’t even know where to begin. Nancy struggles with debilitating anxiety and depression. She, too, has tried so many different things to change but nothing seems to help. At first glance, you might think that Dan and Nancy are unique, but they are not. They are normal people trying their best to navigate life and its challenges.

So how do you experience change? How do you grow in grace? How do you begin to experience renewal in an area of your life? In this series of posts, I would like to propose eight basic steps for growth in grace. This is not a simplistic technique, but an attempt to be as practical as possible. Let’s start with the first step.

Step One Along the Path: Look to Christ

Whenever you start to see areas of struggle in your life, it can immediately produce guilt and shame. The natural instinct is to deny, hide or cover up the struggle. We see this instinctive movement with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Upon their initial disobedience, they hid from God, covered themselves and shifted the blame in an effort to avoid facing their guilt and shame.

Given this natural instinct to hide, cover and blame-shift, it is so important to begin the change process in a place of confidence and safety. I believe this is the pattern of Scripture. Whenever the biblical writers are addressing disobedience or calling believers to further obedience, they almost always start with emphasizing God’s covenant love and faithfulness to his people. When there are exceptions, the writers warn their readers first and then remind them of God’s steadfast compassion. This is the structure of the 10 commandments. Before God gives the people of Israel his commands, he begins with these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (Exodus 20:2, Deuteronomy 5:6).

This pattern is repeated all throughout Scripture. The commands of God are grounded in the grace of God. Paul does the same thing in Philippians 2:1-4:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Notice the pattern. Before he calls them to obedience in verse 2, he grounds them in their relationship with God in Christ. It is then that he says “then.” The same pattern can be see in Colossians 3:12:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Before Paul tells them what they are to do, he tells them who they are: chosen, holy and dearly loved! The final passage that is worth noting is Titus 2:11-14:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to all ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

In this passage, Paul points to Jesus’ first and second coming to strengthen our hope and resolve to such a degree that we are eager to do what is right. The Gospel restrains ("say no to ungodliness") and deeply motivates us ("eager to do what is good") to grow in faith and obedience.

Application

With this Biblical backdrop in mind, locate a few passages that enable you to relate to God with confidence that you belong to him and you are secure in his gracious and loving embrace. Don’t stop there. Start talking to God and thanking him for how he has loved you with an everlasting love. Is there a particular passage that you find comfort in other than the ones I have chosen? Is there a favorite song or hymn that reminds you of his grace? A poem? A phrase? A work of art? A friend who tells you the Great News whenever you see them?

So often we listen to the voice of our conscience that whispers words of guilt, shame and condemnation. These thoughts hum in the background of our minds like white noise preventing us from hearing the clear sound of God’s voice. You must fight to replace the false narrator with the true Narrator who speaks the truth about who you are and to whom you truly belong. This is the true and living Creator and Redeemer who has revealed himself in Christ.

Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane

Over the coming weeks, I will continue to add "steps" that are practical ways of thinking about the process of growth in grace. If you want to be alerted each time the next post goes live, you can sign up to receive e-news here:

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Email Format
Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.