How to Grow in Grace: Step Seven

In my last blog, I said that the Christian vision of change is rooted fundamentally in a relationship, not a discipline, technique or even thinking positive thoughts about your new standing in Christ. It means RELATING to Christ on the basis of what he has done for you.

We could spend a good bit of time talking about doctrines like election, effectual calling, conversion (repentance and faith), justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. Those are important and necessary aspects of growth in grace. But if knowledge of those doctrines doesn’t move you into relationship with God (especially when you are failing), then you have not grasped those doctrines deeply enough. All of these doctrines are simply describing different aspects or perspectives on the nature of your relationship with God based upon the work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in your behalf. What we need to do is bring these doctrines into real life where we fight to grow in grace.

This is precisely the point that John Calvin wishes to make in the following statement from his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

"We have given the first place to the doctrine in which our religion is contained, since our salvation begins with it. But, it must enter our hearts and pass along to our daily living, and so transform us into itself that it may not be unfruitful for us … [The gospel’s] efficacy ought to penetrate the inmost affections of the heart, take its seat in the soul and affect the whole man a hundred times more deeply than the cold exhortations of the philosophers!"

While knowledge is important, it is simply an aspect of change. Now here is the challenge; how do we take truth and utilize it in such a way that we relate to God in the midst of our temptations, sins and sufferings in order that we experience growth?

Let me refresh your memory so that you know where we are in this series on change. Here are the steps that have been posted so far:

  1. Look to Christ
  2. Look for Evidence of the Spirit’s Work in Your Life
  3. Rightly Pay Attention to Your Circumstances
  4. Identify Unproductive Coping Strategies and Ungodly Responses
  5. Ask the “Why?” and “What?” Questions
  6. Remember Change is All About Relationship

Step Seven: Experience Internal Transformation

In this seventh step, I want to spell out what it looks like to relate to God in the midst of our struggles. Let me do this by sharing a simple illustration from my own life as a parent.

A Real Life Example

Late one afternoon, I was sitting in my house enjoying some peace and quiet. This always works better when no one else in around to interrupt you! At just the moment that I was contemplating how peaceful it was, the front door opened and then was quickly slammed. I immediately felt tense and a bit agitated. It was my daughter coming home from school. I managed to welcome her home by simply saying “Hey.” I got no response. She proceeded to stomp up both flights of stairs and slam the door to her room. Now I was really frustrated and a bit irritated.

Ask the “Why?” and “What?” Questions

In that moment, I was appropriately enjoying some simple blessings like comfort and peace, but as soon as my daughter entered the house, those were no longer able to be enjoyed. In addition, I felt disrespected when she did not respond to my welcoming her home. What was I living for in the moment more than Christ?

  • Peace: a good thing that had morphed into something I was living for.
  • Comfort: a good thing that had morphed into something I was living for.
  • Respect: a good thing that had morphed into something I was living for.

I proceeded to get up out of my chair and stomp up the first flight of stairs! As I was doing this, I asked myself, “Where did my daughter learn to stomp up stairs like she had?” I asked this question without even realizing the obvious answer! Why was I doing what I was doing? Because I was getting things I did not want and not getting things I wanted. Peace, comfort and respect had become my functional objects of worship in the moment. And when they were taken from me, I began to react in sinful ways; mild irritation at my daughter growing out of a sense of entitlement.

Relating to God in the Moment on the Basis of His Grace

It just happened that I had been doing some sermon preparation earlier that morning on a passage in I Corinthians 1! Some of my application related to how God can change us in the moment. How ironic! The one verse that stood out was I Corinthians 1:30. This one verse began to penetrate deep into my soul;

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

As I rounded the corner at the top of the first flight of stairs I simply said to myself, “Help me, God. Here I go again.” What unfolded was utterly miraculous though no one would have actually seen the transformation that was going on in my soul at the moment. Here is how it unfolded:

  • By God’s grace, I was beginning to see how I was living for peace, comfort and respect rather than for Christ. That was a vital part of my growth in grace. Seeing patterns and signature temptations is a work of the Spirit.
  • I started to cry out to God for help. This simple pivot took me out of myself and directly to God.
  • I began to talk to God on the basis of I Corinthians 1:30. The truth of Scripture began at the cognitive level but moved to a deeper place. I began to relate to God. The Scripture was truly a means of grace, not an end in itself.
  • The truths in that one verse were pregnant with rich truths, which told a very powerful story about who I was in Christ and how that was deeper, more profound and more beautiful than anything else in this world; even good things like peace, comfort and respect!

The ensuing conversation I had with God happened within seconds yet it changed everything. Here is what it sounded like:

  • Father, you say that in Christ I am righteous. That is amazing! I am completely accepted by you because of what Jesus has done for me. Why, then, am I so upset that my daughter has displayed disrespect to me? Lord, help me!
  • Father, you say that in Christ, I am holy. I have a new heart and a new power at work in me by the Holy Spirit. I don’t have to keep sinning in the same old way over and over again. I have a choice in the matter because you are at work in me. I don’t have to let even good things like peace, comfort and respect drive my life. Lord, help me!
  • Father, you say that in Christ I have redemption. One day, Jesus is going to come again and I along with the angels and all of my brothers and sisters in Christ will rule over your creation where there will be no more sin. Why am I so upset that I have lost some sense of control over this little plot of real estate that I don’t even own, the bank does! Lord, help me!

Experiencing Deep Change

As I was relating to God on the basis of I Corinthians 1:30, something began to happen. The allure of earthly peace, comfort and respect began to lose its attractiveness and charm. Instead, Jesus in all of his grace and power began to loom larger on the horizon of my gaze. New things began to fill my heart and I found myself worshiping and thanking God for his kindness to me. The irritation and anger began to dissipate. It was being replaced with joy, gratitude, patience, empathy and love. You might argue that I was experiencing deep renewal at the heart level as I engaged in deep repentance (turning away from peace, comfort and respect) and faith (turning to Christ and his loving-kindness).

As I turned the corner, I found myself walking calmly up the second flight of stairs! The grace of Jesus was changing my behavior at the level of how I used my legs and feet to walk a set of stairs! Another miraculous thing happened as I approached my daughter’s door. Rather than using my fist to firmly hit the door in anger, I was able to pivot my hand and simply tap on the door with my knuckles.

This simple illustration from my own life represents the micro-moments of change. It is these seemingly simple moments of life where change, growth in grace, and our relationship with Father, Son and Spirit must become real. If we can’t relate to God in the more mundane moments of life, we will not relate to him when the more significant moments arise.

The process of internal change is a mystery at one level and something that we clearly participate in at another. In my next blog, I will tell you what transpired right after I tapped on my daughter’s door.

Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane

How to Grow in Grace

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:

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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 a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. 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.